The whole debacle could arguably have started here: Clark wrote an article on Tony for the Daily Planet right after Tony’s disastrous birthday party. It was…unflattering, at best.
Bruce didn’t speak to him for a week.
“Would you just tell the JLA, already?” Dick asked. “You’ve trusted them this far, why not just go the full mile? It’d make this kind of stuff way easier, and Clark might actually apologise.”
“I don’t need his apology,” Bruce replied, ignoring both Alfred and Dick in favour of buttering his toast very precisely. “I need leverage so I can buy up Hammer’s company and turn it into a waste disposal unit, which is the only thing it deserves to be.”
“Stark seems to be doing all right on that front all on his own.”
“You haven’t seen anything yet,” Bruce said darkly. “Tony doesn’t do anything by halves.”
Several weeks later, with the Stark Expo nothing more than a charred disaster area, Dick raised an eyebrow. “I might see your point,” he conceded. “I might even be inclined to take Clark’s side on this one.”
Bruce sighs. “I’ll let you meet him some time,” he says. “We’ll see what you think then.”
(Dick meeting Tony is a mistake of the highest order.
Bruce may have seen it coming…and done nothing to stop it.
It’s worth it, though, for Dick’s look of sheer glee as he outruns, jumps, and dodges DUM-E’s clumsy flailing of the fire extinguisher, while Tony laughs and laughs from his workbench.
“I like this kid,” Tony declares. “You should get some more. Responsibility looks good on you, as always.”
“I’ll think about it,” Bruce replies, and allows his expression to remain soft as Dick whoops and does a backflip off of DUM-E’s arm. He acknowledges, if only to himself, how nice it is to have more than a select few people know the whole of him.)
This was also, of course, how this whole situation started spiralling.
Tony likes to think that he infected Bruce with the terrible breakfast protein shake craze. Bruce says precisely the reverse.
Everyone agrees that it doesn’t matter; either possibility results in both of them having a disgusting habit.
The first time Bruce stays the night in the Avengers mansion, Natasha looks at him the next day like all her worst nightmares had come true.
“You actually drink those?”
Bruce pauses halfway through swallowing down the whole magic bullet-full of green glop. “They’re good for you.”
She throws up her hands. “You rich boys and your cleanses.”
Bruce watches her leave the room, and says belatedly and somewhat affronted, “I don’t need to cleanse.”
“Ooh, is there more of that?” Tony says, shuffling in like a zombie, hair in complete chaos.
“No, but the ingredients are still out.”
None of the Avengers, save Tony, knows what Bruce does in his spare time. He kind of likes that they like him anyway, which is probably due to his inability to keep up his facade of air-headed playboy around Tony for any extended period of time.
Or hell, maybe he’s keeping it up just fine, if Natasha thinks he needs to cleanse. Still, he makes a note to stop by more often. There’s a certain ease in the Avengers tower that, for all its newness, has yet to take hold in JLA headquarters, at least for Bruce.
He doesn’t think about why that could be.
It was probably a small miracle that Tony killed Stane before Bruce could get to him.
Through a haze of medication in a private hospital bed, Tony had a very strange and disjointed memory of coming awake and seeing Bruce sitting in the visitor’s chair, pitched forward, elbows on his thighs and hands clasped. His slightly downturned face was a complicated rictus of no emotion and too much of it. Tony couldn’t recall ever seeing him look like that before.
He worked enough saliva into his mouth to say, “Gotham safe without you for today?” He sounded hoarse and distant even to his own ears. His chest hurt.
Bruce didn’t startle, but he took a short breath and let it out. “I only heard bare outlines, and someone’s locked down all of your security footage.”
“Mm,” Tony agreed, not really comprehending. Clearly these were good drugs.
“Who did this, Tony?” Bruce growled.
That…that got through. Tony had to close his eyes. He’d turn away too, but it hurt too much to move. “Obie.”
There was a long, dangerous silence. And then Bruce’s hand closed tightly around Tony’s shin.
“Is he taken care of?” he asked.
Tony cut a glance at him, and said shortly, “Yes.”
“You’re not going to tell me how.”
“You’ll see it on the news.”
“Don’t take that tone with me, I’m drugged and sore and possibly concussed.”
“I don’t have a tone,” Bruce said. He paused, and then he said, “This is about the suit, isn’t it?”
“What else?” Tony said, looking at the ceiling.
“You know what you’re getting into, don’t you?”
“It’s not gonna be like you. I’m not The Night, or whatever. I just…I need to make things right.”
Bruce sighed. “Always the hard way with you.”
“If it’s not difficult, it’s not worth doing.”
“I know.” He rose. “Get some rest, Tony. Be safe.”
Bruce paused at the door, muttered, “I know,” once more, and left like a whisper.
For the record, Batman never interacts with Iron Man.
Uh, except for that one time.
“Hey, Bats! Bats, can I call you that? It has a ring—“
“Aw, come on—“
“No, Iron Man.”
A repulsor blast lights up the alleyway.
“You don’t belong here.”
“Don’t I know it. Jesus, I feel like I’m gonna get mugged, and I’m standing here in a metal suit.”
“I could have handled it,” Batman says tersely. He’s not lying. Mostly.
“Uh huh.” Iron Man surveys the mess of biomechanics now groaning against a dumpster. “Pretty sure that’s cobbled from some decades-old Stark Tech.”
“Is it?” Batman inspects it. The old swoosh of Stark Industries is faded on the rusty metal, but its there. “Ah.”
“Yes, ‘ah’,” Iron Man says. “Now can I play, Dad?”
“Help yourself,” Batman grunts. “Just get your nonsense out of my city.”
“Yessir, right away, sir.” Iron Man salutes.
Stark Tech never shows its face in Gotham again. Tony complains about his stock prices plummeting as a result.
Bruce just shrugs, and quietly buys up a few hundred more shares.
“Muscling in on my territory, Wayne?”
“Just making a sound investment, Tony.”
“I reserve the right to sick Pepper on you.”
“I’m sure Ms. Potts would appreciate the opportunity to spend more time with a gentleman of a higher calibre.”
“Yeah, a higher calibre moron. Or did you think I told her who you really were? You’re Brucie Wayne to her, pooh-bear.”
“Love you too, sugar,” Tony singsongs.
“Save your damn pet names for Rhodes.”
(Tony had always known about Bruce’s fear of bats. It’s probably why he knew exactly where Bruce was headed, the moment he chose the cowl.
In fairness, Bruce never regretted it once that Tony figured it out so fast.)
Agent Coulson seems to have taken a dislike to Bruce for no reason that he can think of. He stops by the tower on a Wednesday afternoon, having completed the deal he’d been sent by Wayne Enterprises to close, and is greeted at the door by a cordial welcome from JARVIS and a stony glare from Phil Coulson, who stands in the foyer with his arms crossed.
“Mr. Stark is awfully lax about security around you, Mr. Wayne,” he remarks testily. “Remarkable, considering this place just reopened last week.”
“In my defence, I’m neither an alien nor a demigod,” Bruce says mildly, still playing up his usual persona, just in case. “Also, Tony and I go way back. He trusts me.”
Coulson narrows his eyes at him. “Interesting,” he says. “Given that Mr. Stark has a truly impressive number of trust issues.”
“Hm,” Bruce says neutrally. “Is he here, by any chance?”
“I suppose. Yes.”
Bruce begins to move past him when Coulson adds, “His trust wouldn’t happen to have anything to do with your…extracurricular activities, would it?”
Bruce pauses, and then says with complete honesty, “No, Agent Coulson. I’d say that his trust would have nothing to do with anything I do in my spare time at all.” And then, because he can’t help himself, he adds, “In fact, I can’t imagine anyone trusting me more just because I enjoy polo.” He smiles. “But you trust me, don’t you, JARVIS?”
“Indubitably, sir. Very good to see you again.”
“You too, buddy,” Bruce says. And then to Coulson: “See? JARVIS likes me.”
Coulson glowers. “JARVIS likes you,” he echoes with distaste.
“I’ve known him a long time,” Bruce replies, and breezes past him. “Home advantage.”
Tony is in the workshop, banging away at Mach-30. “Brucie!” he exclaims, when JARVIS pointedly cuts the music off. “The hell are you doing here?”
“I was in the neighbourhood,” Bruce says. “And don’t call me ‘Brucie’.”
“That reserved for your girlfriends and sycophants?”
“Given that those are most often one and the same, yes.”
“Ruff,” Bruce drawls. He shoves his hands in his pockets, looking around the workshop. “I think Agent Coulson is under the impression I’m trying to poach you for the JLA.”
“Ha!” Tony says. “He wishes to be rid of me that easily. Sadly, I’m not touching your little cultish group with a ten-foot pole.”
“We’re not cultish.”
“You’re considering living on a space station. Together. Away from humanity. Don’t do it, Bruce, don’t give in to the sway of the ivory tower.”
“It would be useful for galactic disputes,” Bruce points out, though without much enthusiasm. Dick hadn’t been thrilled by the prospect either.
“Yeah, and useless for everything else,” Tony says, and then whines, “Don’t leeeeeave me, Bruce, you’re my only friend.”
“That might have been true once, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t now,” Bruce remarks. He comes forward and pats DUM-E before settling next to Tony on his workbench, sprawling his arms as inconveniently as possible over the desk. Tony huffs.
“So have you asked Captain America out yet?” Bruce says, casual as he can, and then enjoys Tony’s answering splutter and clatter of equipment.
“No,” Tony says, between inarticulate protests, “I’m not, that’s not—“
“Good,” Bruce says, “Because speaking of sycophants, I need a date.”
“So?” Tony says mulishly. “That’s what your harem of starlets are for.”
“It’s the Met Ball,” Bruce says. “It’s all starlets, there’d be nowhere to escape to. Clooney isn’t even coming, I’m going to be stranded. Weren’t you invited anyway?”
“Pepper wanted my ticket, something about Coco Rocha and a lipstick they both liked, so I let her have it. I assume she’s bringing whomever she pleases.”
“So you can be my plus-one, perfect,” Bruce says. “I’ll pick you up in two hours.”
“Bwha…? No! Bruce, don’t make me, come on…”
“JARVIS, make sure he’s dressed by seven,” Bruce interrupts. “The Armani sharkskin he wore to Cannes should work, maybe with a black silk shirt instead of the burgundy, otherwise he’ll clash with my navy blue.”
“I will do my best, sir.”
“Traitors,” Tony mutters, “Traitors, the lot of you.” He peers at Bruce. “Any particular reason you’re wanting to play the bi-card this evening?”
Bruce shifts. “No.”
“Uh huh. This wouldn’t have anything to do with Selina Kyle being there, would it?”
“Absolutely not,” Bruce says immediately, and then winces.
“You actual dog.”
“She’s a jewel thief, the place will be teeming, and I need a distracting cover,” Bruce hisses.
“Oh, I’ll give you a distraction,” Tony purrs, “I will put your ambiguous sexuality all over the press even as you skulk off into the darkness. But you will owe me so much, Bruce. You will owe me buckets.”
“Fine,” Bruce agrees. “Fine. Might those buckets be filled with a copious dose of making Steve Rogers terribly jealous of me?”
Tony’s ears turn pink. “He wouldn’t be,” he mutters.
“But if he is…?” Bruce prompts.
(The tabloids have a field day, and Bruce hates it, is forcibly reminded of how awful it is to be a public figure, even for one side of his life.
A few months later though, at the DC gala, Steve Rogers asks Bruce shyly if Tony’s dating him, and Bruce is smug for weeks. Tony can’t even bring himself to be mad.)
As it happened, Bruce didn’t lie to Coulson: He and JARVIS had a very special bond from the moment JARVIS became more than a long string of protocols, became a voice and a mind.
And Bruce could remember that exact moment, too. Because Tony had been the third drunkest Bruce had ever seen him, and Dummy had been hovering around his supine form like some kind of hand-wringing grandmother.
Bruce will never get over the fact that JARVIS’s first decision as a conscious entity was to call him.
“Mr. Wayne. I am sorry to bother you; I understand that it is a late and uncouth hour at which to call you.”
Bruce came wide awake. “…Who is this?”
“I am designated JARVIS, Just A Rather Very Intelligent System, Mark 1.6, created by Supreme Overlord and Badass, Mr. Tony Stark.”
Bruce rolled his eyes even as dread sank into his stomach. “JARVIS,” he repeated, “As in, Edwin Jarvis?”
“Indeed, Mr. Wayne, the late Edwin Jarvis is my namesake.”
“Incorrect, I am JARVIS, Mr. Wayne.”
“No, yeah, I know.” Finally, Bruce swung his legs over the side of the bed and raked a hand through his hair. “I just…” he gathered his wits. “Am I to understand that Edwin Jarvis is dead?”
“That is correct, Mr. Wayne. As of yesterday, 8pm Eastern Standard Time.”
“Call me Bruce, JARVIS.” Bruce swallowed. “Um. Why have you called me?”
“I am…” JARVIS paused. “I am concerned for my maker, sir.”
“I’m on my way.”
“He is in Malibu, sir. Please hurry.”
Bruce broke about three flying regulations to get to Malibu in under three hours. He’d pay the fines later.
Tony’s house was half done, a spare bedroom and the lab the only things complete. Tony was planning to move into the place at the end of the summer, once construction was completed.
Bruce started to attempt an override of the security system, and was startled by a voice coming through the speaker at the door.
“Identified: Mr. Bruce Wayne. Please confirm voice print.”
“Indeed, sir. Voice print confirmed. Mr. Stark is in the lab.”
The lab door opened soundlessly for him, and there was Tony, slumped on the ground, with DUM-E crouched over him, but the robotic arm squeaked and skittered out of the way as Bruce approached.
“Hey boy,” Bruce said to him absently, and noted that Tony either had fallen or had been rolled onto his side, so he was at least not likely to have aspirated. His breath was deep and wet. Bruce shook his shoulder.
“Tony. Tony, wake up, damn you.”
“I have not been able to rouse him, sir.” JARVIS said, and his voice had a quality to it that Bruce would only later identify (with both amazement and horror) as worry. “His vital signs are stable, but I was not given protocols for this situation, and was therefore not prepared. I thought that I ought to seek outside help, and you were listed in Mr. Stark’s emergency contacts.”
“How long have you been online, JARVIS?” Bruce asked, grabbing Tony’s arm and bracing himself for a fireman carry.
“Four hours, fifteen minutes, and forty-three seconds, sir.”
“Jesus.” Bruce lifted Tony over his shoulder and struggled to standing. “Is there a bathroom close by, JARVIS?”
“I will light the way, sir.”
Tony woke up halfway to the bathroom, and promptly threw up over Bruce’s back.
“Oh good. You’re buying me a jacket and trousers, Tony.”
“Ugh. Wha? Bru—“
“Don’t talk, we are not talking right now, we are getting you sober and then you’re going to explain to me why the fuck you didn’t call me about Jarvis.”
Tony groaned and nearly concussed himself as Bruce deposited him in the giant cast iron tub in the lab bathroom. Then he spluttered as the shower head blasted on.
“Fuckin’ Christ, what the—ugh.”
“That reflects my feelings as well; I’m glad we’re in agreement.” Bruce stripped out of his ruined jacket and pants and threw them in the sink, turning the faucet on to wash the smell of sick away.
“You get prissier the madder you are.”
“I’m going to actually kick your ass when you’re sober again,” Bruce growled.
Tony flinched, and closed his eyes as the water continued to run.
Bruce breathed, and breathed.
It could have been minutes or hours later when Tony stirred again. “Wha’more needs to be said?” he slurred. “He’s gone. I wish he wasn’t.”
Bruce closed his eyes, the bathroom tile freezing against his ass and back now that he was down to his undershirt and boxer briefs. “That’s all you needed to say,” he said. “I would have been here.”
“Didn’t want to bother you, you got enough goin’ on,” Tony murmured, barely audible beneath the spray. “Put up with enough of me already, and Rhodey’s in Iraq, an’ he’s seen even more—”
“Tony,” Bruce interrupted, unwilling to hear more. He knew what what Tony meant when he said ‘seen’, all of the awful connotations of media attention and speculation, and the way it could poison personal attention entirely, if you let it. It didn’t mean he agreed this time, though. “You’re an idiot,” he said. “Call me. Anytime, anywhere.”
Tony didn’t answer. Bruce sat up and looks at him. “Tony,” he repeated. “Look at me.”
Tony did, listing his head to the side. “Promise you’ll call me,” Bruce said.
Tony blinked. “Okay,” he said.
It’s the one promise he kept for more than a decade.
After Afghanistan, Bruce forms a strange friendship with Rhodes born mostly out of necessity, and involving a fair amount of drinking and commiseration. Dick starts calling him Bruce’s “Starkologist,” which Bruce is secretly offended by, because if anything, that should be Bruce’s title, considering he’s known Tony for longer.
But on the other hand, he missed a lot of time, and Rhodes had been there when it counted.
And now he’s there because the fucking President just got kidnapped, and Bruce can’t get a hold of Tony.
“He’s okay,” Rhodes says immediately upon answering the phone, and Bruce has to sit down heavily. It’s been hours since he left a frankly embarrassing message on Rhodes’s phone.
“Good. And you?”
“Oh, I was with him on this particular adventure,” Rhodes says tightly, “I’m just fucking peachy.”
Bruce sucks in a breath. “Sorry.”
“Yeah, yeah. Gotta get my yearly heart attack in, you know?”
“Guess I’m due for one,” Bruce admits.
“I’ll make sure to direct his next call to you,” Rhodes says dryly. “God knows I need a nap.”
Bruce exhales. “Fair enough.”
Rhodes pauses, and then says, “He might be able to get the arc reactor out. Something about Extremis, he said.”
“I know a surgeon,” Bruce says immediately.
“I thought you might,” Rhodes replies, and Bruce can hear the smile in his voice. “Good.”
“Take care of yourself, Rhodes,” Bruce says.
“Only if you do, Bats.”
Bruce can’t even bring himself to be mad that Tony told him, which probably says a lot, whether Bruce likes it or not. “Don’t call me that.”
“Sorry man, I helped Tony save the President of the United States, I get to call you whatever I want.”
Bruce feels pretty justified in hanging up on him. And if he grins at the phone for a few seconds, no one’s around to see it.
So in all, Bruce did think a lot about revealing his identity to Clark and the others. It wasn’t a matter of trust after the first few years, but it was a matter of logistics and weighing the advantages and disadvantages.
Tony, however, managed to mostly make the decision for him. Because if meeting Dick became an inevitable mistake, Bruce is perhaps willing to concede (to no one but himself, obviously) that Tony befriending Oracle was not so much a calamity as a very convenient spot of good fortune.
Bruce spat blood out of his mouth, swallowed what was left, and tried to blink the spots out of his eyes.
His tactical position was not ideal.
“Tell me where you are, Bat,” purred the low voice in the darkness, echoing in all directions, untraceable. “It will make this so much easier for you.”
Bruce sincerely doubted that. He shifted minutely, not making a sound except the smallest exhalation when he figured out that his ankle was probably broken. The suit locked it firmly into place, but it wouldn’t hold his weight for long.
The JLA was on the other side of the galaxy, overseeing a Lantern dispute.
Clark, even at his fastest, wouldn’t be here for an hour.
Bruce could hold on for an hour.
“Your silence is vexing,” the voice said. “We must do something about that.”
There was a slosh of something wet, and then Bruce could feel it encroaching, lapping against his gloves, his hip where it rested on the floor. It didn’t smell like anything but rust and moss—warehouse water.
Something crackled, and then some form of electricity blazed out behind Bruce, arced into the water and then burned.
Bruce seized, his bad ankle hitting a storage crate, and he might have bitten his tongue, he couldn’t tell. When he came to, everything hurt, everything hurt.
He couldn’t hold on.
“Where aaaaare you?” the voice singsongs.
Another crackle, but this time, Bruce’s heart leapt.
He raised one trembling hand to his earpiece, which had been blown out for the last fifteen minutes, and taps it.
“B?! B, can you hear me? Please, what’s—“
“Get help,” Bruce whispered hoarsely, “Oracle, triangulate my location, I need—“
“On my way to you,” a second voice cut in, hard and out of breath. “Keep that earpiece out of the way, keep it on, I’m tracking you now that it’s online, goddamn it Bruce, where the fuck is your team?”
Bruce almost laughed, but he didn’t have the breath for it. “Busy.”
“Busy my ass,” Tony snapped, “I’m four minutes out, what am I going into?”
“Controlled plasma,” Bruce managed, finally lifting himself up out of the water and onto a crate, trying desperately to be quiet, “Telekinesis, ability to create elements, I don’t know—“
“Infinity gem,” Tony said, sounding grim. “I’d bet on it. Okay. Okay, you need more backup than me. How long until your wayward team gets here?”
Bruce calculated as he lifted himself into the rafters, throwing his last batarang as a distraction. “Forty minutes.”
“You suck. Everything about this sucks. I’m calling Natasha so she can yell at you.”
Bruce wheezed. “Do whatever the fuck you want.”
“Hold on,” Tony ordered. “Just hold on.”
In the end, they needed to call in reinforcements, because it wasn’t just an Infinity gem, it was Harley Quinn and an Infinity gem, and basically, what started as a routine Gotham job was in fact a shitshow of the first order.
“How did you even know about this situation, and why didn’t you tell us?” Clark demanded, when it was finally over. “We never would have left you without backup if we’d known—“
“It’s complicated,” Bruce interrupted, striding into the League headquarters and trying his best not to limp. The suit supported his weight just enough for him to pull it off. The electrocution burns were…less pleasant. He’d be fine until he got home.
In truth, he’d known about trouble with the gem (even if he hadn’t known that that was what it was) because of trouble at Wayne Enterprises. Specifically, trouble to do with Bruce’s work at the company. Not only had it seemed entirely doable by Batman alone, but it had also been a sensitive enough case for Bruce to make telling the JLA more hazardous than helpful.
Tony made a dissatisfied sound that came out like a grainy exhale through the faceplate, and then he flew up and over the group to stop Bruce in his tracks. Damned red and gold suit. “You could have called me. Earlier. And without giving O a heart attack.”
Bruce looked at him. Tony stood solidly, unflinching, and in the state Bruce was in, there was no chance of getting around him. Bruce...deflated slightly. He was tired.
“I guess I could have,” he said at last.
The JLA, he noticed distantly, had gone rather still behind him.
“Do you two…know each other?” The Flash ventured, after a second.
“Yes,” Tony said, at the same time that Bruce said, “Define ‘know’.”
Clark stepped forward, and kept looking between the two of them with increasing concern.
Tony gave Bruce a hurt look. “Seriously? I am wounded, Batsy, wounded and appalled.”
“You aren’t shit.”
“Iron Man just called him Batsy, and he isn’t dead,” The Flash mock-whispered to Wonder Woman. “What is happening here?”
“Yeah, B, what is going on here?” Tony asked, turning expectantly to Bruce.
Bruce stared at him. Was he actually...? “Is this payback for the Cincinnati incident? Because I already told you, I—“
“B,” Tony interrupted, flipping his faceplate up. “You could have called me, and I’m upset that you didn’t. But they’re your team. This actively didn’t let you ask for help from them. That is, to be perfectly honest, way more upsetting to me than the lack of phone call.
"They're your team. What’s the worst that could happen?”
And the thing was, Bruce hadn't just thought about it--they had talked about this, all of this. As soon as Tony’d gone public, they’d talked about the costs and benefits of privacy, about the shit and the triumph Tony alternately slogged through and embraced in the wake of losing his composure in front of the press. And Bruce remembered now, what Tony had said when they’d mulled it all over again, after the Battle of New York, and the formation of the Avengers.
“It’s not about just me anymore,” Tony had said. “It’s about both sides of me, being equally invested in this group. I want them to know that there’s no part of me that isn’t with them, all the way to the end. I think that made it easier, in the end, no matter how much Steve was a dick about it in the beginning. We’re public figures. It’s important to have a certain degree of transparency with each other, if no one else.”
Bruce always knew it, but it never wasn’t galling—Tony could be really smart sometimes, and not just about robots.
“You’re such a dick,” Bruce said, because he wasn’t giving in without a fight, and also because Tony should never be allowed to be more smug than could be helped. “I’m selling all of my SI stocks.”
“Would someone please explain to me what the fuck is going on?” Barry demanded.
Bruce pointed an accusing finger at Tony, though his resolve was crumbling fast. “This is coercion.”
“This is me getting you to do a thing you should have done years ago,” Tony retorted. “You’ve been talking about doing it for months. Just man up, Captain Crunch.”
Green Lantern, previously stalwart with his arms crossed over his chest, choked.
“That’s enough, Iron Man," Clark said, coming to stand at Bruce's shoulder. "Frankly, you have no business being here, and I’m not opposed to throwing you out.” He turned to Bruce. “B, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. We don’t care who you associate with outside of work, we value what you bring to the League no matter what.”
…That was sort of the crux of it, wasn’t it? Tony looked like he knew it, too. He was going to be unbearable.
Bruce took a breath. “You’ve known me for three years, Clark. Ever been tempted to use that x-ray vision to have a look at what’s underneath the mask?”
Clark clenched his jaw. “Tempted? Sure. But I never have.”
“I would’ve,” Barry muttered. Diana elbowed him.
Bruce gave him a flat look, and then turned back to Clark. “My feelings about the secrecy of identities remain the same. But I think, particularly after today, that I probably also owe you all an exception.” He took a breath, and then pulled off the cowl, ignoring a slight tremor in his hands and hiding it by pushing his hair back into some semblance of order. He slanted a somewhat sheepish smile at Clark, whose eyes had gone wide, and then offered his hand to shake. “Bruce Wayne. It’s been a pleasure working with you.”
“Holy shit,” Barry said.
Clark stepped forward almost automatically to take his hand, but his gaze kept sliding between Bruce and Tony. “Bruce Wayne,” he repeated. “I’ve done profiles on you for The Daily Planet. You and Mr. Stark—?”
“We’ve known each other for way too long,” Tony said. Bruce grunted agreement. It was a better descriptor than just ‘know’.
Diana stepped forward, too. And then John, and Barry. And before Bruce knew it, this group, these damned idiot superheroes, were folding in around him, shaking his hand, smiling, saying it’s nice to meet you in the driest tones possible, exclaiming that they knew there was something familiar about him, something they’d seen on TV sometime, no really, stop laughing, Bruce, you’re a bastard for keeping this from us so long, and also Christ, is that a burn on your forehead, you need medical attention.
“I’m fine, really,” he said to that, and received overwhelming skepticism in return. No one ever listened to him.
He glanced quickly back over his shoulder at Tony, who’d stepped back from the group.
Tony shot him a wink. Unbearable and insufferable.
Bruce rolled his eyes, and tried not to show the way a weight on his chest seemed to be dissipating with every hug and handclasp. Batman had a team.
Bruce had a team.
“Call me, sugarpie,” Tony said, and blew a kiss at Oracle through the security camera as he took off, out of the building, and into the night sky.
Clark clapped a hand across Bruce’s shoulder. “Your friend’s kind of a character,” he observed.
“That is the kindest way of putting that, thank you,” Bruce replied.
“Seems to do pretty well by you, though,” Clark added.
Bruce couldn’t deny it. “About that medical attention,” he said instead.
Diana looped an arm around his waist, taking the weight of him and his suit with ease. “Come on, B,” she said. “I imagine you have very nice facilities at home, but what we have here is perfectly serviceable, and significantly closer.”
“Fair enough,” Bruce said, and allowed himself to be led.
It’s the end of the world again, but the world isn’t without weapons.
The JLA and the Avengers meet on neutral ground to talk global tactics, and Clark and Captain America go through a long list of formalities and careful diplomatic statements before Nightwing loses patience, gives Bruce an exasperated look, and does a backflip onto, and then off of, Tony’s armour.
The silence is deafening for about half a second. Then Tony cracks up, and flips up the faceplate.
“Watch the merchandise, buddy,” he cackles.
“You know you love it,” Dick retorts, and then the tension dissolves, just like that. Diana steps forward to give Bruce Banner a gentle hug that he returns with restrained amazement, and Barry and Clint immediately start arguing, and Clark and Steve look around, and then at each other, before sighing.
“Hey Brucie-kins,” Tony says, sauntering forward, “I’m getting real tired of this whole apocalypse shit, you think we can maybe do something about that?”
“I’m sure we’ll come up with something,” Bruce replies. The group is slowly migrating towards the long table where the meeting is actually supposed to take place, and Bruce automatically settles next to Tony. It seems to set a precedent—the rest of their teams side-eye them, and then slowly shuffle into a mixed formation around the table.
“As we were saying—“ Captain America starts.
“Oh em gee AIM. Very mechanised solar flare,” Clint interrupts.
“Such fire. So mysterious international funding. Much wow,” Barry adds.
They high-five. Natasha snorts, and then looks a little ashamed of herself.
“We’ll come up with something after I kill those two,” Bruce amends.
“Idle threats,” Tony dismisses, grinning. “We’ve all grown on you.”
“Like a damn fungus,” Bruce agrees.
“Just remember that I was the first.”
“You were the damp that caused the rot.”
Tony tries to lick Bruce on the cheek. Bruce shoves his hand over his face and pushes him away.
“Save it for the tabloids, Tony.”
“If we could maybe pretend that this is a professional environment,” Rogers says dryly, “That would be great.”
“We need to disable the device AIM has managed to construct, and also find out who the hell is enabling them, because it’s definitely not just the usual suspects on this scale,” Bruce responds, still keeping his hand stretched over Tony’s face.
“Ms. Waller, anyone?” John Stewart suggests, and gets a few murmurs and nods.
Bruce tilts his head. “Tony and Dr. Banner can discuss with John and the others Green Lanterns what our best options are for the device, and Barry and Natasha and Clint can explore funding sources. The rest of us will need to create avenues of access and a plan of attack.”
“We’re going to need to likely synthesise the equipment to disable the device from scratch,” Tony mumbles around Bruce’s hand. Bruce finally removes his hand and wipes it on his jeans. Tony is actually still a five-year-old, who licks people.
Bruce looks at him. “Stark Industries, Wayne Enterprises. Between the two of us, we can get that done in an afternoon, once you’ve figured out the necessary hardware specs.”
“Our companies, colluding?” Tony says, raising his eyebrows, a smirk forming. “The media will have a field day if they find out.”
The JLA looks at Bruce, but he just shrugs. “Let them.”
The Earth is going to be just fine.