Life as Bruce Wayne’s paramour is hardly the glamorous, erotic grope-fest the tabloids make it out to be. They mostly do normal things like nag each other about work, eat takeout, make love, and put forth semi-respectable efforts at communication.
Life as Batman’s paramour, on the other hand, promises a slightly less conventional set of experiences.
“You have never trusted me! Not even when I was twelve and you were spewing all that bullshit about my potential and my ability --”
“So now I’m to apologize for believing in you?”
“Believing in me? Fuck off, Bruce, you know damn well that was never what it was!”
Jason keeps going, of course, Jason always keeps going, but Clark clears his throat and stops listening. The rest of the family is gathered in the sitting room - Duke, Cass, and Steph huddled together on the couch, Tim staring blankly out the window, Damian crouched on the banister, features twisted in (possibly permanent) fury. Clark knows they can’t quite make out the finer points of the argument the same way he can, but the muffled sounds of Bruce and Jason yelling don’t exactly leave much to the imagination.
They fight all the time, of course, but it hasn’t been this loud or this venomous for a while. Clark supposes this has something to do with the fact that Dick is upstairs with carefully sewn stitches up the length of his sternum, so doped up on painkillers he can barely remember his own name.
Clark twists his hands in his lap, quietly surveilling the room. Bruce’s family is a largely inexpressive bunch, a trait regrettably inherited from their father. No one is saying anything, but he can feel their collective unease on his skin like a physical touch.
The unmistakable sound of something shattering takes place several rooms away. Five sets of eyes immediately flick towards the source of the noise.
“Alright,” Clark cuts in. “That’s enough of that.” He’s at least 95% sure he has no idea what he’s doing, but Dick is indisposed, Alfred is taking care of him, and right now Bruce is hurting more than he’s helping, which means someone else needs to see to the rest.
“Shoes on, everyone,” he says, rising from the couch, patting his pockets to make sure he has a wallet. “We’re going out.”
“Where?” Tim asks, brow creased in skepticism.
Clark considers the question. “You guys ever been to Superburger?”
They hadn’t. Say what you would about their extensive psychological issues, but the Waynes were loyal to a fault.
Clark loads everyone into the least expensive-looking car in the garage. It would be faster to fly, of course, but carrying the six of them at once seems a little daunting, and if he accidentally dropped Damian in the harbor he’d never hear the end of it.
He’s a little surprised with how easily they’re herded, but it must have something to do with the strange combination of post-mission exhaustion and nerves thrumming beneath everyone’s skin. As much as they'd be loath to admit it, he knows seeing Dick go down has shaken them up.
(In the parking lot, he and Cass fall in step, and she appraises him with that penetrative stare. He smiles carefully in response.
“Dick tries to get us to talk,” she says, mouth flattened in a dubious line. “About… feelings.”
“Ah,” Clark nods. “Is he ever successful?”
Cass rocks her hand back and forth, the universal ‘so-so’ gesture. Clark sighs.)
He’s nowhere near as respected or trusted as Dick Grayson amongst this bunch, so he doesn’t even attempt that. Instead, he buys them a truly ludicrous amount of calories and opens up the space for ranting. If there’s one thing he knows about teenagers, it’s that they love to complain.
“They can’t go a single interaction without invoking their respective traumatic pasts,” Stephanie shakes her head, waving an incredulous french fry. “It’s like, hello, break out these issues in therapy, not the middle of a mission!”
“Bruce in therapy,” Duke snorts, rubbing his hand over the side of his face. “Like that would ever happen.”
The corner of Tim’s mouth twitches into a smile, the first Clark’s seen since the start of the evening. “In his defense, therapy sounds like a pretty unilaterally terrible experience.”
Noises of assent.
“Talking about your issues for an hour.”
“Having someone pick apart your brain.”
“Diabolical,” Damian judges, taking a noisy sip of his milkshake. He still looks angry, but, again, Clark’s starting to think that’s just his face. It gets less unnerving and more cute the longer he looks at it. “It doesn’t bode well for Father, having his weaknesses displayed so obviously in battle. When it comes to Todd, he’s…”
“Difficult to talk to,” Clark supplies, taking a small sip of his Ginger Ale.
Damian regards him warily out of the corner of his eye. He addressed him ‘Clark’ rather than ‘the Alien’ earlier, but Clark guesses that has more to do with preserving identities than goodwill.
He does, however, tip his head in concession to Clark’s point.
“I understand your frustration. I get frustrated, too, but the thing about Jason--” Clark starts, then stops himself, considers the words carefully. “I knew him, during that time.”
He doesn’t have to specify - they are all intimately aware of the details of Jason’s death. Clark would guess that the negative space, however, lies in Bruce’s grief.
“He was different before. He’s always been reserved, but-- after Jason died, everything about him became... sharper. Harder.” Clark shakes his head, leaning back in the booth and trying to find the words to describe the abruptness of that change. So many people believed that the defining tragedy of Bruce Wayne’s life had been the loss of his parents, but they hadn’t seen him the way Clark had -- after the funeral and looming over the coffin, in the cave with his eyes fixed on the display. There was an emptiness in that stare, an emptiness that had never quite left Bruce, even when Jason returned.
“Jason was the center of his world. After he died, for years, he let the weight of that grief crush him. Shape him.” Clark shakes his head. “Losing a child is-- it’s a kind of unimaginable pain. And the possibility that that could happen to him again... that he could lose Jason again.” He shrugs helplessly, glancing at the impassable faces around the table. “It’s unbearable for him.”
And it steals away some of that prized rationality he holds so close to his chest - which is precisely why he refuses to have a conversation with Clark about it, period. It takes Clark a moment to realize his words are met with stretched out silence. He wonders if he’s said too much.
Then he feels the weight of a small hand on his wrist and glances up to see Steph looking at him with gentle eyes. Duke sits back in the booth, brow creased in sadness. Cass is touching Tim’s shoulder, and Tim is staring with fixed concentration at the table.
“What can we do, then?” Damian asks, and it’s funny to hear a kid’s voice sound so gruff. It sounds a little like he’s trying to copy Bruce. And just like Bruce, when he says ‘what can we do’, Clark suspects he means ‘how can we help’.
“Be patient with him,” Clark says, offering them a small smile. “And it would be great if you could all stop dying. Period. Temporary deaths included.”
There’s a beat of silence, then the sound of quiet, reluctant laughter, and Clark finds himself impossibly endeared.
“I think we should talk about it.”
“Oh, come on. Even Damian opened up more than this.”
Bruce looks at Clark over one shoulder, still tugging sweatpants up his legs. “What did he say?” he asks.
Clark is laying in his bed in plaid boxers, legs sprawled as he scratches idly at his stomach. His apparent relaxation is a ruse belied by his eyes, noticeably bright and alert even hidden behind thick frames. That look is the same one Clark gets when he’s caught wind of a particularly compelling story. That look says that there is a specific headline Clark wants to slap on the conclusion of this conversation, and he’ll be steering them in that direction until his objective is achieved.
Because Clark doesn’t just come out and say things. Because Clark is from the midwest .
“All of them said you two fight too much. And that you need to go to therapy.”
Bruce snorts, getting into bed next to Clark and tugging the comforter over his torso. “They did not say that.”
“How do you know? You weren’t there. You were too busy breaking vases with Jason.”
“You’re being deliberately dramatic. Jason gesticulated passionately and knocked something out of place.”
“That’s really all you have to say about this evening?” Clark prods, tapping the panel by the bed to turn out the lights.
“Thank you for taking them out,” Bruce hums, reaching up to pat Clark’s shoulder.
“Seriously?” Clark catches his hand before he can draw away completely, rolling onto one side and fixing Bruce’s profile with a look of immense amusement. He brushes a kiss along the inside of Bruce’s wrist. “We’re still not at a place where you feel like you can talk to me about this?”
Bruce doesn’t mean to laugh, but of all the impossibly tangled mysteries he’s stared down this week, this one, lying between his sheets and staring at him expectantly, must be the most difficult.
It has escalated to the point where neither of them can maintain the delusion that the arrangement is, in any sense of the word, ‘casual’. They have had slow, intimate, life-affirming sex on more than occasion, and even though Bruce finds the experience so sharply mortifying that he freezes Clark out for days afterward, that hardly wipes away the memory of the words I love you, I need you exhaled against his hairline, and the way they always seem to wake up holding hands the next morning.
In any case, maybe they are -- partners, in some nebulous sense of the word, or in love, in a way that feels a lot more concrete, but that does not give Clark unmitigated access to what Jason calls his ‘ Issues ’.
The right to pass judgment on his family, for example, must be sectioned off from Clark’s wry wit and holier-than-thou eyebrows.
At first, he thinks Clark will be amenable to the circumstance. He’s been so patient with the rest of Bruce’s oddities, after all. So he places a hand on Clark’s cheek, meets his eyes through the darkness, and says “this is a private matter”, expecting that to be the end of it.
An unfortunate miscalculation.
The first morning he’s well enough to do so, Bruce drags Dick out of bed early for brunch reservations at their favorite restaurant on the waterfront. They’ve been regulars at the place for years, despite the fact Dick almost got them banned indefinitely for doing a handstand on the champagne fountain when he was ten. Their only saving grace was that he’d executed the move without disturbing the structure at all, and the manager had ended up applauding rather than yelling, helplessly charmed in that way most people were, when it came to Dick.
They get a seat by the window, private and quiet. Bruce orders Eggs Royale and Dick orders something that would make the family cardiologist wince. Halfway through the meal, Bruce sets down his fork, folds his hands on the table and says, “I’m involved with someone.”
Dick raises his eyebrows, “Someone I don’t know?”
A pause, wherein Bruce could swear he keeps his expression carefully impassable, yet Dick seems to read something into it anyway.
“Someone I do know,” he surmises, then leans back in his booth. “Clark.”
Bruce can’t stop the reactionary raise of his eyebrows. “Hell of a guess.”
“Not a guess,” Dick winks, mouth tipping in a charmingly crooked smile. “A deduction.”
Bruce will have to ask for a comprehensive explanation of his reasoning at some later hour, but he elects not to push it now. He never intended for such a truth to be so easily displayed to one of his children -- not that Dick’s a child, really, but it’s an unfortunate truth that the older he gets, the sharper the image of a four-foot-tall cartwheeling Hellion becomes in Bruce’s mind.
“You haven’t offered your opinion.”
“You want my opinion on this?” Dick asks, unreasonably incredulous.
“I ask for your opinion on lots of things.”
“Uhhh, yeah, but mostly so you can make a point of not listening to me and then doing whatever the hell you want.”
Bruce narrows his eyes. That is patently untrue, but he’s not in the mood to argue it now. “Well, this time the inquiry is genuine.”
And once again Bruce thinks he’s containing the rapidly unfolding urgency at the center of his chest, keeping it carefully sectioned off from his voice and his expression, but Dick manages to override his efforts.
“Oh,” Dick says, leaning forward and bracing his elbows on the table. “Oh, I see. You thought I would try and talk you out of it.”
Bruce makes a small scoffing sound, straightens his posture minutely. “That’s ridiculous.” He resumes the task of cutting his meal into uniform squares. “I’m perfectly capable of assessing a relationship without your input.”
Dick shakes his head. He’s stopped shoveling food into his mouth, which means the conversation has taken a turn into more serious territory than Bruce ever intended it to. “See, I don’t think you are. I think you’re really into for Clark, and that scares you, and now you’re looking for reasons to run away.”
“One Intro to Psychology course at a mid-tier University hardly makes you qualified for this conversation.”
“Maybe not,” Dick shoots back, quick enough that Bruce knows he’s pissed him off. “But a decade and a half of putting up with your bullshit certainly has.”
“You’re serious about this?”
“I’m not going to be your convenient excuse to self-sabotage, Bruce. If you want to fuck things up with the love of your life, you alone need to bear the weight of that decision.”
A brief silence passes between them. Bruce considers the condensation on his water glass.
“He asks too many questions.”
“So do you.”
“He takes up too much space.”
“ So do you .”
“He’s very involved,” Bruce frowns, their conversation from the other night playing on a loop in his head. Clark hasn’t dropped the issue. He has yet to bring it up again, but Bruce knows from the look in his eye and his strange serenity on the topic that he’s playing some sort of long game. “Intrusive. He can’t respect a boundary.”
“Well, at the risk of permanently mangling this horse’s corpse — neither can you. Also, those will be problems you have with anyone you love as much as Clark. I would first try not putting up so many boundaries. It may be an issue of volume.”
Dick’s expression indicates that he will not be goaded into extrapolating on any of these points. He looks down at his plate, poking at his food with a fork. “Hey, you think they’ll melt more cheese over these hashbrowns if I ask?”
Bruce sits back in his booth and stares at Dick, who is winking at one of the waitresses and grinning like he’s about to say something stupid. Bruce sincerely hopes that years of partnership have not simply amounted to ‘putting up with each other’s bullshit’, but then wonders if that isn’t a kind of love in itself.
“I’m waiting for an artfully constructed retort, O King Of Denial,” Dick says, still smiling.
Bruce misses the Hellion, sometimes. He was far less emotionally intelligent and he never got touchy about Bruce paying the brunch bill.
“Finish your food before you order anything else,” he tells Dick.
“You’re no fun.”
“I try not to be, no.”
Bruce thinks part of the problem - and there is a problem, no matter how many knowing looks Dick might flash him over breakfast plates - is the way they got started. There was no confession. No big, dramatic coming together. All it had taken was a cup of coffee.
(“What is this?” Bruce asks, squinting at Clark’s extended offering.
Clark tilts his head to the side, draws his eyebrows together with a puzzled smile. His expression is the perfect picture of classically handsome confusion. “An Americano.”
“Well, I wouldn’t have gotten it if I knew you were going to get all existential about it.”
“What did you do?” Bruce pressed, still skeptical. “Property damage or something?”
“God, you look like you’re having a stroke.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Bruce frowns, taking a sip. It is lukewarm and uniquely terrible.
Clark and Bruce have been friends for a very long time. After so many years, they have reasonably developed a repertoire of acceptable behaviors which allow them to be as close as they are without things getting… weird. This has never been on the list. He wants to ask again - you just got me a cup of coffee? , but something makes him hold back.
The incident remains a niggling presence in the back of his mind even as he attempts to return to work. It doesn’t help that the coffee cup itself sits in his periphery, because it’s too gross to drink and Bruce thinks throwing it away in front of Clark might be a bit rude.
And, in any case, Clark keeps glancing at him over the top of his laptop like he can somehow telepathically sense Bruce wants to throw it away, so there’s absolutely no chance of him subtly taking it to the restroom and coming back without it. Bruce doesn’t know what’s wrong with him tonight, but the oddness sets his teeth on edge, makes his nerves bristle in warning.
It’s not an ideal environment to concentrate. Bruce decides to turn in early. Clark has a self-set 11:30 bedtime to meet, so he starts packing up his things, too - Bruce pulling his papers together and sorting them into a meticulous order, Clark shoving handfuls of crumpled up notebook sheets into his bag.
When Clark crosses to the other side of the conference table, Bruce’s internal Defcon level sharply and suddenly ratchets up. The scene bears traces of the uncanny; it looks exactly like every other late night at the Watchtower they’ve spent together, every other night where they’ve fallen in step and walked out without drama or incident, but it also doesn’t. There are just a few things off — Clark’s shifty gaze. The nervous tilt of his mouth. The fucking coffee cup that Bruce is going to have to wait until he gets home to throw away.
Bruce stays tense, cautiously swings his duffle bag over his shoulder.
Clark is now getting closer, closer than he normally does, closer than they allow themselves to be. Bruce’s throat constricts oddly and it’s frankly a miracle he doesn’t kick Clark’s legs out from under him and jump out the window.
Clark places his hand against Bruce’s collar.
And it’s immediately different from every other time Clark has touched him - it’s not a clap on the shoulder, carelessly exchanged between friends. It’s not Superman holding Bruce back from a fight in that steady, impervious way of his. No, Clark brushes his fingers against Bruce’s skin, the movement slow and exploratory, breathtakingly intimate. It makes Bruce freeze in his tracks, look at Clark with an expression of utter bewilderment.
“What are you doing?”
“...I don’t know,” Clark wets his lips. “I didn’t think this far ahead.”
Bruce narrows his eyes, features creasing into an expression that would have made Clark wilt six years ago. Now it just makes him exhale a soft laugh and mutter “shut up”, even though Bruce hasn’t said anything.
And then he leans in and brings their mouths together, a large, gentle hand guiding Bruce’s neck.
The kiss is careful at first, then Clark realizes Bruce isn’t going to kill him or something, and he gets a little bolder, hand moving from Bruce’s nape to the square of his jaw. His lips are perfectly soft even though it’s the middle of winter, because Superman’s skin doesn’t chap. His breath tastes like the chocolate from the Snickers bar he just ate.
Even as Clark kisses him deeper — the hot slide of his tongue in Bruce’s mouth, the edge of the conference table digging into Bruce’s back — the embrace bears the same undertones of exploration and tenderness as that first touch against his collar.
Bruce has spent a lifetime pressing against things until they break, sharp and unyielding, always primed for a fight. It’s a habit, now — when he encounters something new, he immediately tests its limits.
But Clark kisses him, and his first instinct is to yield.
That’s his big clue that this thing of theirs might be really important.
When Clark draws back it’s not far enough for Bruce to gather his thoughts, and the first thing Bruce asks is, “Is this related to the coffee?”
“I guess,” Clark does that soft laugh again, “I’ve been thinking about you a lot.”
Bruce wonders at how Clark just allows himself this, simply reaches into the space between them and claims something that’s been building over the span of several years. No thought, no plan, no regret.
Bruce could’ve done this years ago. He had every opportunity. The reason he didn’t was because he could imagine what it would feel like to have it, and then to spend the rest of his days terrified of losing it. Paranoid. Looking twice around every corner, circling his possessions in rings of salt, keeping his fists clenched tight so nothing slipped through them.
In any case, it doesn’t matter now. Something about the weight of Clark’s face in his hands neatly and irreversibly seals Bruce’s fate.)
And so began the biggest and most undefinable variable to settle into the equation of Bruce’s life since the arrival of Damian. Bruce used to hold Clark at arm’s length all the time, and it was normal and comfortable and expected. Now, in this nightmarish post-coffee reality, Bruce either keeps him pressed so close there’s scarcely room to breathe, or pushes him until he’s a million miles away. They have permanently lost the ability to navigate whatever exists between those two extremes.
Bruce is most afraid that whatever it is that’s between them - work, coffee, weeks of silence broken by hours of sex - doesn’t actually amount to anything. He’s afraid that one day, he will ask for too much, cross some undetermined line, and Clark will look at him with overly kind eyes and say “oh, Bruce. You’ve misunderstood. This isn’t a relationship. How can this be a relationship, when you won’t even let me spend two consecutive nights in your bed?”
If he could figure out a way to voice this concern to Clark’s face without being hit by a staggering wave of anxiety and nausea, that would be the ticket.
Bruce enters the cave to see his former dependents grossly misusing the equipment, as per their nightly routine.
Jason sits behind the console with his legs spread and his arms behind his head, the soft pink and blue glow of the screens reflected on his sallow features. Tim occupies the seat next to him, clearly the perpetrator of the arrangement as he fiddles with his laptop, eyes scanning interestedly over the resulting video feed.
Broadcasted before them is a video recording of Clark, Kara, and Conner grinning and waving from their respective perches on a massive parade float. Behind them is a rainbow balloon arch. Flanking the raised platform is a multitude of dancing figures - drag queens in capes, scantily clad men bearing sparkly renditions of the S-shield, and other people whose gender identity Bruce won’t assume.
“Hey,” Jason throws his dirty boots up on the console. “Why don’t we ever go to Gotham pride?”
“Does Gotham even have Pride?” Tim asks dryly. “I bet it’s, like, four people wearing Grayscale flags. And maybe they put sunglasses on one of the Gargoyles.”
“Oh, come on. The gentrified part of Gotham at least has to have an actual Pride.”
“I go to Gotham Pride every year,” Dick says, descending the stairs to the cave with a plastic spoon in one hand a bowl of cereal in the other. He ambles over to the desk and grins up at the screen, elbowing Jason’s feet to make room. “They have a float just for Nightwing.”
“How come I didn’t know that?” Tim asks, frowning. He’s staring pensively at Conner Kent, who has shrugged off his ridiculous leather jacket and has no less than 3 drag queens’ hands in his belt loops.
“You are welcome to join me, Timmy,” Dick shoves a spoonful of cereal in his mouth, then looks pretty pointedly at Bruce. “ Anyone is welcome to join me.”
“Don’t mind if I fucking do.”
“No cops at pride,” Tim smiles, glancing at Jason out of the corner of his eye. “Just Red Hood with a sparkly bazooka.”
Bruce diverts his attention back to the screens, where Clark is now attempting to moonwalk across the float and failing miserably at it, much to the embarrassment of Kara. He bumps into a man in a red leather harness and places a friendly, steadying hand on his shoulder, tipping his head back to laugh.
The two cannons at either end of the float shoot a round of a sparkly blue confetti into the air, and Conner cups his hands around his mouth to shout something.
“Bruce, is this triggering any competitive impulses in you?” Dick taunts, shooting Bruce a look edged with something that neither Tim nor Jason will pick up on. “Look at how cute their Superfloat is. Think about how cute a Batfloat would be.”
“I don’t know if anyone actually wants to see that,” Tim winces. “Our costumes aren’t really made for daylight.”
“Well,” Jason starts, picking one of the marshmallows out of Dick’s cereal bowl and popping it into his mouth. “ Clearly Alfred would have to undertake a Pride-only redesign. Booty shorts, crop tops, body glitter.”
“Tim,” Bruce interrupts. Tim’s eyes are on his in an instant and he’s shutting the lid of his laptop, dropping gangly legs to the floor and raising his arms above his head in a stretch.
“That was so freaky and immediate,” Jason looks between them, a vicious smirk curling the corner of his mouth. “You have him chipped or something?”
One of the benefits of having Damian in the house is that Tim has developed a sort of divine patience towards Jason’s ribbing. He simply turns around and flips Jason off over one shoulder as he trudges out of the cave, socked feet thumping softly on the stairs.
Bruce starts to follow him, but casts one last glance at the screens just in time to see Clark glide up off the float and sweep over the rail, handing out high-fives to people at the edges of the crowd.
Patrol is a neat, routine affair that night. They take down the smuggling operation of a third tier villain who calls himself ‘The Point Man.’ They intercept an attempted robbery of a University research lab. And towards the tail end of the evening, Tim stumbles upon a man harassing two girls holding hands on their walk home.
“Everything okay, Robin?” Bruce asks over the comms. Tim preferred to maintain an unyielding sort of control over himself in a fight, relying on past preparedness rather than violent innovation. He’d deviated slightly from that principle by throwing this particular criminal into a brick wall.
“Fine, Batman,” Tim responds, voice tight and clipped. “Are we ready to head back?”
Bruce resolves to discuss it with him later. Tim’s temper — much like Dick’s — made most attempts at rational conversation completely untenable.
They return to the cave at a semi-reasonable hour. Tim disappears to go sit in the floor of the kitchen and eat peanut butter straight out of the jar, and Alfred brings a chilled kale smoothie to the cave, fussing half-heartedly about protein.
When Bruce is finally alone, he really means to go over the recent developments on an arms running case he’s working on with Duke, but instead somehow ends up dialing Clark’s number just as the clock edges past midnight. It rings three times before Clark picks up.
“Everything okay?” Clark asks, voice laced with concern.
“Surprised you’re not at an afterparty right now.”
A pause on the other end of the line, and Bruce pictures the confused dip of Clark’s mouth. “You were watching?”
“Tim has a vested interest in Conner.”
“We may have to address that. Eventually.”
“I know,” Clark sighs. “I’m hoping today was a good primer. Anyways, I’m middle-aged, so no I’m not being a killjoy at somebody’s afterparty. What’s up?”
Nothing. There’s absolutely nothing up. And Clark is so confused about what could possibly be up because they saw each other yesterday, so this phone call is officially breaking one of the unspoken rules of their arrangement. Bruce thinks about Clark trying to moonwalk across the float, and has a moment of startling apathy towards the rules in general.
“You know,” Clark starts, breaking the tentative silence. “There’s a twenty-four hour gelato shop on Avery and 31st I’ve been meaning to try.”
“Gelato in Gotham?” Bruce smiles. thumb running along the rough edge of his gauntlet. “Sounds like a surefire way to get salmonella.”
“Well, lucky for you, I can’t actually catch salmonella. What do you say? I’ll pop over to the manor in fifteen, we can drive together?”
“It’s 12 in the morning.”
“Fine. I’ll come over and we won’t get gelato,” Clark’s voice drops in a way that’s probably meant to be suggestive, but comes off as exceedingly dorky.
“I have a better idea. You bring gelato back to the manor.”
“Hey. You’re using me as a food delivery service.”
“Salmonella delivery service,” Bruce chides dryly. “It’s different.”
“Uh-huh.” There’s a contemplative pause on the other end of the line, then Bruce can hear the faint rustle of Clark’s comforter and the small whoosh of air he expels as he reluctantly abandons the warmth of bed. “All I can say is you’re lucky I only like you for your money anyways. I’m expecting a very generous tip.”
Stuck on the tarmac in Chicago. Be a couple hours.
It’s funny — the only day this week that Clark is actually here on official League business, and Bruce gets held up. He supposes he could just leave and come back, but he doesn’t know what he’d even do, really, and Bruce’s house is—- well. Large and imposing and kind of terrifying when he has to pee at three AM, but he’s been here enough times to have achieved a level of comfortable familiarity with the place during daylight hours.
Emboldened by his Legitimate Work Reason For Being Here, Clark exits the sitting room and follows the sound of voices to the kitchen. Somewhere along the way, Alfred the Cat finds him and twines between his legs, clearly in want of attention. Clark scoops him up in his arms just as he rounds the corner to the serving hall.
The voices belong to Dick, Duke, and Damian, who seem to have undertaken a very messy culinary endeavor, sans the help of Alfred. Titus watches them from the corner with a gaze that’s quite imperious, for a dog.
“Hey Clark,” greets Dick. He’s sprawled across two chairs at the kitchen counter. Sitting in front of him is a water-damaged case file that he doesn’t appear to be reading at all.
“What’s up?” Clark asks, jutting his chin towards the vaguely organized chaos of the kitchen.
“It’s Multicultural Day at school tomorrow,” Dick’s eyes flick to Damian, who could not look more displeased about this fact.
Duke stops critically eyeing an unopened box of cake flour and straightens up, offering Clark a polite smile. “We’re Russia.”
“Then why are you making… birthday cake?”
“Because Damian alienated the only person in this house who actually knows how to cook by assuming he would do the project for him.” Damian, who has been rather aggressively stirring a bowl of cake batter up until this point, halts just so he can shoot a venomous glare at Duke. Duke doesn’t appear to be bothered. “Alfred’s decided to punish him by ‘trimming the roses’ for the next four hours .”
“It isn’t as if I asked him to do the actually difficult part of the work,” Damian grouses. “My write-up is thirty pages, fully cited, and includes unpublished data from the foremost food scientist in Eastern Europe. ”
“Yet the oven bested you,” Dick rumples Damian’s hair. “Funny how that works.”
“Anyways, my third foster mom taught me how to make tres leches,” Duke shrugs, adding a couple dashes of vanilla to a measuring cup of milk. “Whatever. I’m sure there are some Latin American immigrants hiding away somewhere in Moscow. Damian’s write up can be a weighty geopolitical statement.”
Clark sets down Alfred the Cat, giving him one last stroke along the knobs of his spine. He brushes his hands on his jeans and the resulting fur sticks there. “Can I help?”
“Yes,” Damian says shortly, nodding towards the fridge. “You can wash and cut the berries.”
Dick exchanges a look with Clark. “Might want to tack a ‘please’ on the end of that, Little D.”
Damian looks like he’d rather shove the whisk up his nose, but manages to smooth the expression down to an irritated wrinkle between his brows. “Please,” he says, prim as his father.
“Will do,” Clark smiles.
A strangely easy sort of domesticity settles over the kitchen. Duke almost cuts himself tripping over a katana left on the pantry floor, so there’s no pretending that it’s-- normal, exactly, but perhaps it’s a version of normal that works for the strange crop of adolescents Bruce has taken in.
Duke recalls most of the recipe from memory with startling accuracy, but they run into a snag after they’ve poked holes in the cake layers.
“You’re supposed to add something to the La Lechera,” Duke mutters, squeezing his eyes shut. One of his sleeves is slipping down his forearm and he has a stripe of flour across his cheek.
“Do we really need it?” Damian probes, glaring at the cake layers as if they’ve personally offended him.
“Hey, you’re already bulllshitting this part of the assignment. Don’t half-ass it, too.”
Clark vaguely wonders if he should say something about swearing, but ultimately resolves it’s too late for Damian anyways.
“You know who’d know,” Dick cuts in, and for a moment his voice is all Bruce - the kind of bone dry resignation he takes up when he’s being petty (and vehemently pretending he’s too level-headed to be petty).
“Oh, shit.” Duke shrugs, wiping his hands on a stray paper towel. “Text him, then.”
“You know he’s not gonna answer if I text him.”
Duke heaves a sigh and digs his phone out of his pocket, punching in what Clark presumes is Jason’s number. A quick, easy conversation ensues — the easiest Clark’s ever heard, between Jason and another member of the family — then Duke presses the phone to his shoulder and looks at Dick.
“He says he’ll come help, but he wants you to ask Bruce something without saying it’s for him.”
Dick frowns. “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. It’ll take Bruce, like, half a second to see through that.”
Duke puts the phone back to his ear, listens to the irritated warble of Jason’s voice for another couple seconds, then puts it down again.
“He says it’s the principle of the thing.”
“Tell him to stop being a giant wiener.”
Duke makes a pained face. “Please don’t make me say that.”
The dispute is resolved when Damian throws something at Dick, Dick smears frosting on Damian’s nose in retaliation, and somehow a small dollop of the stuff lands on poor Titus’ head in the resulting tussle. Clark clears it away with a paper towel but the fur there remains kind of sticky.
Jason shows up a little while later with a disgruntled frown on his face, toeing out of his beat-up combat boots and leaving them in the middle of the kitchen in what Clark presumes is a small act of defiance.
“Coconut milk,” he says, struggling out of his jacket and draping it on Damian’s head. Damian immediately tosses it on the floor, where Alfred the Cat wanders over and makes a bed out of it. “I don’t see coconut milk.”
“It’s in the second freezer downstairs.” Damian slides off the counter in a quick, clean movement. “I’ll go get it.”
“Be fucking quick,” Jason warns. “I’m out of here before Bruce gets home.”
Damian rolls his eyes. Jason rolls his eyes back. Clark marvels at what passes for communication in this family.
The cake gets finished eventually, but somewhere in the process of frosting, it goes from being three-layers to two-layers, because Jason and Duke get hungry. Duke wraps up a slice in a thin layer of sticky plastic, leaving a post-it note that says ‘Alfred - NOT TIM!’ on top.
There is predictably a moment of drama when Jason leaves, claiming his “stick-in-the-ass-bat-furry” senses are tingling.
“Don’t forget to ask him my question,” he says to Dick.
“Ask him yourself,” Dick says back in a mild voice.
They have a short, silent conversation made up of narrowed eyes and frowning mouths, then Jason cuffs Dick on the back of the head and departs as understatedly as he arrived. He does not attempt to take his jacket back from Alfred the Cat, which Damian seems to approve of immensely.
At the end of it all, Clark somehow finds himself carrying a very sticky Titus, who is easily a hundred pounds, up four flights of stairs and down a seemingly endless number of corridors, all in pursuit of the guest bathroom with the biggest tub.
Damian leads the expedition, managing to keep that arrogant tilt to his jaw even with bright yellow cleaning gloves pulled halfway up his arms.
Titus looks quite disdainful as Clark delicately deposits him inside the bathtub. Damian leaps up onto the edge with cat-like grace, attacking the task of bathtime with the kind of military-like efficiency one might typically reserve for a mission.
“Thank you for carrying him up,” Damian says, after a while. He’s scrubbing Titus’ back with a purple loofah.
“Glad to do it.”
“I can lift him, but sometimes it’s difficult to see over the top of his head.”
It’s peaceful, sitting up against the bathtub as Damian works. The marble is cool through his slacks and Titus barely splashes at all, though he does lick Damian’s eyebrow appreciatively when he finally rinses off the last of the soap.
That’s how Bruce finds them when he finally makes it home. He looks tired and... almost warm, in a way he hardly ever lets himself be. Maybe it's the soft fit of his cashmere sweater, or the slightly rumpled quality of his post-13-hour-flight hair. It's a little breathtaking, an effect only heightened by the markedly domestic implication of him walking in on this scene in the first place.
“Did you finish your project?” Bruce asks, eyes flicking up to Damian.
“Yes,” Damian sniffs, sounding offended that he’d even ask. He glances sharply towards Clark. “Kent helped.”
Bruce arches an eyebrow. “You did?”
“I cut berries. There’s still some cake in the fridge.”
And Bruce is still looking at him, in this way that has to be illegal in at least some of those sexually repressed bible belt states. Thankfully Damian is too taken with the task of towel-drying Titus to notice.
That night, they have the kind of sex that Clark thought only existed on the well-hidden, scantly supplied ‘Mature Readers’ shelf of the Smallville Public Library. Even though Tim and Damian are several corridors away, Bruce has to shove his three fingers in Clark’s mouth to ensure they aren’t heard. At one point Clark arches so far off the bed that it’s only Bruce’s enormous mattress and sharper-than-average instincts which stop him from being thrown off entirely.
Afterwards, Clark attempts to ask ‘what was that all about?’, and merely receives the clipped response, ‘not everything is about something else, Clark. Go to sleep’, which most definitely means that there was a specific impulse motivating their very athletic evening, and it was something embarrassing enough that Bruce would rather chance a bald-faced lie than confess.
A blessing and a curse, to know each other so well.
Once Clark is certain Bruce is no longer conscious - can tilt his head forward and hear the slow, relaxed thump of Bruce’s heart - he whispers ‘I love you’ to his softly rising shoulders.
For once in her goddamn life, Stephanie Brown is actually minding her own business.
She’s sitting on the floor of one of the smaller kitchens in the manor and painting her toes purple, a tasteful cheese board of camembert, prosciutto, and a handful of fruity pebbles assembled at her side.
Though she’d prefer to be doing this in the warm comfort of Cass’ room, it’s one of the worst ventilated spaces in the whole McMansion. She’s been exiled due to the smell. And she did briefly consider stinking up Tim’s room, but snacks took priority.
Setting up shop under the table is a matter of self-preservation - if she gets even a drop of polish anywhere Alfred can see, he’ll know it’s her from the purple, and vengeance will be swift. And it’s not so bad, anyways. Her legs are a little cramped, but it’s sort of nice being covered. Almost peaceful.
She enjoys that energy for approximately thirteen minutes before it’s brutally lanced by the appearance of boys. Because in this house, if someone (other than her) is doing something truly and profoundly stupid, it’s almost always a boy.
“I can’t read your mind, Clark.”
”I didn’t ask you to.”
Two pairs of legs and torsos enter the kitchen. One is charging ahead in Italian leather dress shoes. The other is trailing behind in New Balance sneakers.
“No, but only because you’re fundamentally incapable of telling me when you need something.”
“Am I really getting a lecture on healthy ways to communicate from Bruce Wayne? ”
Stephanie doesn’t move— doesn’t breathe. She’s nowhere near their sightline, but she’s 100% sure that if Bruce wasn’t so caught up in this very private argument, he’d have sensed her by now. Smelled the fruity pebbles. Heard the purple. Utilized whatever freaky ninja shit he learned on his long, tortured sabbatical.
She silently draws her legs closer to her chest, dropping her chin against the top of bruised knees.
“I don’t want to do this,” Bruce says irritably.
And even Stephanie can tell Clark being purposefully obtuse.
“This— this moronic dancing around. This pretending.” Bruce turns around, folds his arms over his chest, and leans against the kitchen counter in a way that’s anything but casual. Steph is well acquainted with that posture. It makes anyone standing opposite from Bruce feel about two feet tall. “I just want you to say it. You’re upset with me.”
“I’m not upset.”
“Yes, you are,” Bruce dismisses, impatient. He steps forward and takes Clark’s face in his hands, the sharpness of his voice entirely at odds with the tenderness of his palm against Clark’s cheek. “You’re looking at me like you look at Booster Gold.”
“I like Booster Gold.”
“Even if that were true, it doesn’t matter. You’re not in love with Booster Gold.”
In love? Stephanie’s brain shrieks in protest. Every time Clark and Bruce fight it’s sort of vaguely reminiscent of a lover’s quarrel but apparently, at some point, with none of them knowing, these two morons of astronomical proportion actually made it official. Holy, and she cannot emphasize this enough, shit.
She attempts to snap out of it and keep watching, but Clark doesn’t appear to have anything left to say. One of his hands comes up to grip Bruce’s wrist, not to pull it away, but to hold it in place.
In love , Stephanie’s brain echoes uselessly.
She wonders if this is the first time Clark has heard Bruce say those words in that order out loud. For a moment it seems ridiculous because they’ve been friends for so long, but then she remembers she’s looking at a man who takes repression and nonverbal communication to new, exciting, and psychologically inadvisable heights every single day.
Clark is still quiet. The seconds drag on. Bruce releases him with a tired grunt, turning around and picking his dish up off the island, only to toss it in the sink with a sour clatter. He braces his hands on the edge of the counter and, for a moment, the taut line of his shoulders is almost jarring. She’s never seen him so visibly upset before-- not in plainclothes, at least.
Behind him, Clark runs a hand over his face, features crumpling in exhaustion. The look of unadulterated longing he directs at Bruce’s terrifying, bulky back could power the whole city for a month, if Gotham ran on furtive gay romance.
Turn him around! Stephanie thinks. Show him that!
“I’m going to go,” Clark says instead.
“Maybe that would be best.”
Stephanie watches in abject horror as Clark turns around and trudges back to the kitchen entryway. On the one hand, no , that is not how this fight is supposed to end, but on the other hand, thank god, because her legs are really starting to hurt from being cramped in this position.
Clark pauses, his back still to Bruce, one hand on the doorframe. He glances over his shoulder, a quick, fleeting thing. Bruce stays turned around.
When Clark leaves, an eerie silence descends over the kitchen, and Bruce - goddammit - turns on the sink, then reaches for a sponge, because he’s apparently decided that right now is a really great time to try actually doing a household chore for the first time in his life, instead of 1) going after his super sexy alien boyfriend or 2) getting the hell out of the kitchen so Steph can leave this house and never return.
Does Bruce know that Clark looked back at him one last time? He had to have used his sixth sense and picked up on the rustle of his shirt fabric or something, right? Then again -- maybe Bruce’s General Bruce-ness is slipping. She has been under the table this whole time and he hasn’t even noticed.
“You can come out now, Stephanie.”
Steph’s head snaps up and hits the bottom of the table, which actually really hurts, but the pain is nothing compared to the utter mortification thudding in her stomach.
“Hey,” she says lamely.
She awkwardly scrambles out from under the table, tucking the bottle of polish in her pocket and wiping clammy palms on her shorts.
“I was painting my toes.”
“The smell gives Cass a headache, so I came down here.”
“That’s very considerate.”
Bruce is still stiffly washing dishes. His face is back to being an unreadable wall. She’s long thought that Bruce’s stoicism was mostly born out of an effort to be their anchor, their immovable, impenetrable rock in the otherwise chaotic life of a pre-pubescent orphan.
She has also long thought that was a bullshit way of handling things. And it’s really not all that different from what he just accused Clark of doing. Go fucking figure.
“I’m gonna go,” she says awkwardly.
Before she does, she steps closer into Bruce’s personal space than she’s been in months, gets up on her tip-toes, and presses a quick kiss to his cheek. The look he shoots her in return is worth the embarrassment - the usually stern line of his brow goes soft, and the corner of his mouth quirks in a not-quite smile.
“Sorry I-- accidentally heard all that stuff.”
“It’s alright,” he predictably goes back to looking at the sink, as if there’s something very fascinating in the garbage disposal, “I like the purple.”
It takes her a second to realize he means her toes.
The fight gnaws at Clark incessantly in the following days. When they were friends and Bruce pissed him off— which was a relatively frequent occurrence, because one of the fundamental tenets of Bruce’s personality is that he’s a spectacular asshole— Clark would give himself forty-eight hours of passive aggression, then he’d shove the irritation down as far as it would go and they would be friends again.
In truth, that had been his general strategy for dealing with interpersonal conflict as long as he could remember, and it had mostly served him well. Confrontation was fine in pursuit of justice. In other areas of life, Clark stringently avoided it.
The issue of it was that the script was completely different this time around. If they were in a relationship — and that was an enormous if, given all the strange constraints of their arrangement — then they couldn’t just leave it, especially not at that argument in the kitchen.
Even the memory of it makes Clark’s stomach drop; he just stood there like an idiot and said nothing, as if refusing to fight would somehow make the conflict less real.
He should make the first move. He should be the one to call.
He decides this just as he pushes the key into the front door of his apartment. If he hadn’t been so anxious at the prospect, so caught up in his own thoughts and what he might say, he would have heard Bruce’s heartbeat before he shouldered inside. He would have known to expect a shadowed over figure on his couch and a dark, critical gaze leveled at his messy living room.
As it is, however, he stands in the entryway gaping like a fish for what is definitely an awkward amount of time.
“Hello,” Bruce says simply. His voice is cold, turns the nervous warmth in Clark’s stomach to ice.
“Hey,” Clark drops his messenger bag by the coat rack. “I was just gonna call you.”
“Yeah. I thought we should talk.”
Bruce breaks eye contact for a moment, eyes moving to the disorganized chaos of Clark’s coffee table. If he had known he’d be having company today, he definitely would’ve thrown away at least two of those Pop-Tart wrappers.
“So,” Bruce clears his throat, turns that intense stare back on Clark. “Talk, then.”
Clark’s mouth twitches into a small, humorless smile. “I hadn’t quite worked out what to say, yet.” He ventures further into the room, taking a seat on the couch closest to Bruce.
Another weighty silence where Bruce doesn’t look at him. Clark quietly cobbles together a speech in his head. He’s thinking that he might start with an apology, because he is sorry, he’s sorry he’s so bad at this, he’s sorry he gets so crazy when it comes to Bruce, he’s sorry—
“I just need to know if you’re ending this, Clark.”
Clark’s mind goes suddenly and perfectly blank. “What?” he manages to say.
“Ending this,” Bruce repeats, in this tone of voice that’s far too casual to be casual at all. “Whatever we’ve been doing, these past months. I would understand.”
“Do you want to end it?”
A muscle in Bruce’s jaw jumps. “Is that really relevant?”
“Yes,” Clark says incredulously. “Yes, it’s— c hrist , Bruce. No, I don’t want to end this.”
Bruce looks confused. “You don’t?”
“ No . I was going to call you to— to apologize, for being so shitty the other day. To explain why… it’s so hard for me to talk to you, sometimes.” He rubs his palms on his khakis, suddenly hyperaware of their clamminess, of the heat along the sensitive skin of his collar. He looks at his knees instead of Bruce.
“I don’t— I don’t know if it was like this for you. Probably not. But I have—… felt a certain way about you for a long time,” he can hear himself talking and every word sounds like hot garbage, but he can’t stop, now. “And I didn’t want you to find out, so I spent a lot of years learning…. Learning how not to say things. How to stop myself from telling you… things.”
Things. God, he sounds like an idiot. He glances up at Bruce, whose imperious expression hasn’t budged an inch. Clark attempts to press through the embarrassment.
“It’s a hard habit to break, ” he finishes quietly.
The old radiator in his apartment creaks ominously.
“You were upset with me,” Bruce prompts.
“I was upset with you,” Clark concedes. “I hadn’t seen you in a while. I know you go quiet when you’re deep in a case, but it’s not as easy for me to just— to turn it off and on, like you do.” Clark chews on his lip. He’s talking too much. How many hours on hours has Bruce wasted, listening to him ramble?
“I was afraid to tell you that,” he finishes, thank god. “Afraid it would mean losing you.”
There’s a moment of silence where Clark’s embarrassment tries its level best to suffocate him. That’s it, then, he thinks. No way they’re coming out of this as— a couple, or half a couple, or whatever they were. Clark looks down at his hands, which suddenly feel too big and clunky, just like the rest of him.
“It wouldn’t have,” Bruce says suddenly. He’s looking at Clark like he’s easily the dumbest person alive.
“You wouldn’t have lost me. You’re not going to lose me,” he repeats, just as flat. “Especially not over something as stupid as that.”
“No. Do you really imagine I could live without you?”
The words pin Clark in place.
Though Bruce’s tone implies a strong belief that Clark spent the first six years of his life sniffing glue, implicit in that wryness is this unshakable certainty. It’s like he’s saying, of course it’s them. Of course it’s always going to be them. That’s apparently just some fundamental cosmic truth that only morons don’t know.
Clark’s never been quite so happy, to be made to feel like a moron.
He leans forward to kiss Bruce and Bruce meets him halfway with a steadying hand on his neck. It’s simple— a brief, heated press of lips. Feels like something Clark could do every day for the rest of his life.
“I want to be with you,” Clark says, getting up off the couch and kicking off his shoes. He braces a hand on the back of the armchair and plants his knees on either side of Bruce’s hips. Bruce’s hands come up to rest on his thighs. “To r eally be with you, and only you.”
“I won’t be very good at it.”
“Clearly I won’t be either.”
“Alright,” Bruce brings Clark’s face close to his, and Clark tips his head forward on instinct. Bruce’s skin is warm and he smells the dab of cologne on his neck, the subtler scent of leather and soap on his hands. “Alright, Clark.”
That night, Bruce rocks against Clark at such a brutal pace that Clark can’t get it together enough to be careful, digs his fingers so hard into Bruce’s hips that there must be bruises.
“Bruce,” Clark gasps, and in the dim moonlight from the window, Bruce can see a sheen of sweat around his neck and collar. “Baby, come on—“
When they first started this and Bruce made him feel this good, he’d turn away, try to hide his face in the pillow like he wasn’t quite sure he was allowed to like it so much. Now he’s looking up at Bruce through hooded eyes — transfixed. Almost reverent.
Clark makes a low, broken sound when he comes, and he practically holds Bruce’s hips in place as he arches up into him. Bruce’s skin is tender beneath the steel press of his fingers, and the ache cuts through him, drives him closer to the edge in turn.
After Clark shudders through the last of his orgasm he drags Bruce down for a kiss, lazily rolling on top of him. He gets a clumsy hand on Bruce’s cock and lets him thrust up into it, mindlessly chasing release.
The sheets are gross, afterward, and Clark lazily kicks them off the bed as Bruce settles into the large crook of his arm. There’s a faint soreness in his thighs and sweat cooling on the small of his back. He hasn’t felt this relaxed in weeks.
“Yeah,” Clark says, and Bruce glances up at him in surprise. “I smelled the nail polish and heard her heartbeat.”
“And I’m sure Dick knows, too.”
“Yes, I told him.”
“He would’ve figured it out anyways.” Clark draws his fingers along the scars scattered on Bruce’s rib cage, touch light against the jagged skin. Clark is fascinated by scars, as someone who can’t have any. “He used to be so little.”
“I used to keep fruit snacks in the pocket of my suit. He was really easily bribed, especially with the Scooby-Doo ones.”
“You should’ve bribed my kid less.”
“Oh, he was fine.”
Bruce hums skeptically against the warmth of Clark’s skin. His eyes are drifting closed. Not even midnight, and he’s ready to sleep. Wonders abound.
“Just so you know,” Clark starts, the words mumbled along Bruce’s hairline. “I’ll be killing the communication game from this point forward.”
“Of course. For example, right now I’m feeling sated and tired.”
“And before , I was feeling very aroused and energized.”
“Great. And I’m thinking that tomorrow—“
Bruce claps a hand over Clark’s mouth, wishing he wasn’t so helplessly endeared, wishing he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life in this lumpy, creaking bed. “Don’t want to exhaust your entire vocabulary tonight, do we?”
Clark loops his fingers around Bruce’s wrist, gently tugs his hand away. He doesn’t say anything but he also doesn’t look even one iota less smug.
“What?” Bruce asks, resisting the urge to roll his eyes.
“You are so in love with me.”
Bruce’s chest spasms oddly. “Clever deduction,” he deadpans, planting a knee by Clark’s hip and climbing on top of him. “What gave me away?”
Clark settles his hands on Bruce’s bare hips, thumbs idling along the jut of bone. He cranes his neck up for a kiss. Bruce indulges him.
“I love you, too, you know.”
“Despite the raw animal magnetism of Booster Gold — “
“I changed my mind. I want to break up.”
Bruce regards his cup of coffee pensively, eyes narrowing at the sliver of a shadow reflected in the red ceramic.
Cassandra has been trying to sneak up on him for the better half of the morning. She has caught him off guard exactly twice in the months she’s been with them, and Bruce is fairly certain she has some sort of wager with Tim that she can get to five before the year’s up.
“Better make your move, soon,” he adjusts the angle of the open case file on his lap. “I have errands to run, and Alfred wants to clean the den.”
He hears the banister creak, followed by the capitulatory thump of her feet landing on the hardwood.
“What gave me away?” she asks, gliding towards the sitting room on socked feet. She vaults gracefully over the back of the couch, landing so her legs are folded neatly beneath her.
“I heard you breathing.”
She rolls her eyes at him. It’s her new favorite thing to do, after watching Barbara use a similar gesture to wordlessly eviscerate one of Dick’s plans at a meeting last month. “No, you didn’t. Truth.”
“Watch your shadows,” he says simply, holding up his coffee cup. Quiet realization passes over her features, and it’s as if he can see the cogs in her mind turning, calculating all the ways she won’t make that mistake again.
“Damn it. Anyways,” she sighs, a quiet, barely perceptible exhale, and reaches into her pocket to draw out a cream-colored envelope, the flap lined with pink ribbon and stuck-on pearls, “Has Dick told you about this?”
Bruce takes the envelope with his free hand, sets down his coffee so he can properly open it. Inside is an invitation written in curling gold script.
Madame Helene’s Ballet School Presents: The 10th Annual Recital. Black tie. Friends and family only.
“Would you come?” Cassandra asks, peering curiously at the invitation. Her eyes flick up to his face.
“Of course,” Bruce says easily, making a mental note to put it in the shared calendar, ask Alfred to work out group transportation. “Everyone will come.”
She stares at him for half a beat. “Everyone everyone ?”
He sets the invitation on the coffee table, arching an eyebrow. “Who specifically did you have in mind?”
She tilts her head to the side, feigning contemplation. “John Cena?”
A smile twitches at the corner of his mouth, “Try again.”
Cassandra sighs a second time, louder, so he knows he’s meant to hear it, and leans back against the couch, picking at a thread on her sock. One of them is plain black and the other is striped white and red. She doesn’t bother finding pairs in the mornings, probably because she was denied the luxury of such small acts of carelessness for most of her life.
“I think you should bring him,” she says simply, smoothing her palms over her sweatpants. “He’s cheerful, and he looks at you like—… Remember that old lady whose cat Damian saved?”
Bruce frowns. He vividly remembers that. They’d been taking down a nascent drug ring in suburban Gotham. He had told Damian they didn’t have time for the cat more than once, but in the tradition of his fore-Robins, he slipped off on his own at the first chance anyway. By the time they’d found him they were an hour off-schedule, and Damian was cradling an armful of orange fur, mid-conversation with a crying old lady in a flannel nightgown.
It was immediately apparent that the old lady had a somewhat extreme, borderline codependent relationship with the cat. She’d kissed Damian on both cheeks at least eight times before letting him depart.
“That is not the flattering comparison you think it is,” he informs.
Cassandra rolls her eyes again. “Think about it,” she says, rising smoothly from the couch and wandering off in the direction of the kitchen, probably in search of Tim, or a canister of that fake cheese she likes so much.
He thinks about it, along with the fact that Cassandra knows -- how many did that make, now, along with Dick, Stephanie, Jason, perhaps Tim had begun to suspect... And it was virtually useless to conceal things from Alfred, so he could be reasonably counted on that list as well.
Bruce suddenly feels very silly for trying to hide it at all. He’s not a man who often feels silly.
Clark is out of town until Thursday, having traveled up north to get in-person interviews for a story on the Maine Lobstermen’s Association. He’s so busy that even his virtual communication is scant. Bruce is surprised to find how starkly he feels Clark’s absence, how much space Clark has come to take up in his life.
On impulse, he takes his case file and his coffee to the study. As he moves through the house, he clocks the rambunctious presence of Tim and Cassandra in the kitchen, who appear to be wrestling over a bowl of whipped cream. Though he’s satisfied with their respective preoccupation, he makes certain to click the lock on the oak doors anyway.
8 AM. Clark might be at breakfast. He tentatively makes the call.
“Hey,” says a breathless voice on the other end of the line, “I miss you.”
Bruce instinctually rolls his eyes. “You miss multiple orgasms.”
Clark laughs, choked off and surprised. “I— well, I definitely do.” His voice settles into a deeper register, and there’s a faint rustling on the other end of the line, like he has the phone wedged between his ear and his shoulder. “But I also miss the way your neck smells and your cranky eyebrows. And you telling me to fuck off when I kiss you good morning.”
“Those are the things you tolerate because you’re so doped up from the multiple orgasms.”
“Your need to be right continues to eclipse my attempts at romance.”
“Maybe you should stop attempting to romance me, then.”
“Fine,” Clark sighs like he’s made some great sacrifice. “I’ll cut straight to the chase. What are you wearing?”
Bruce smiles, and he’s momentarily glad Clark’s not actually around to see it, though it’s possible he’ll pick up on it in the cadence of Bruce’s voice. Clark paid attention to things like that. “That’s not actually why I called.”
“No.” Bruce drums his fingers on the desk, struck with a strange feeling that’s perhaps some cousin of nervousness, embarrassingly enough. “How do you feel about ballet?”
Cassandra Cain is the kind of happy she can feel in her throat.
Mere hours ago, she stood on a stage in the middle of a blinding spotlight and took a final bow so low her nose almost touched the ground. And when she’d looked up -- unable to keep the smile off her face, because she could hear Dick whooping through the din of applause -- her entire family stood tall in the second row. All nine of them. Duke was cradling a bouquet roughly the breadth of his chest. Bruce was smiling that smile she loved, the one that brought out the crow’s feet at the corners of his eyes.
Everything after that was a blur. They came to meet her backstage and she stuck her nose in the flowers. Babs cut off her circulation with a hug before running off on Batgirl business. Mitsy von Heinberg the third shot Cass no less than eight envious looks over the top of her programme. Steph took her hand and she still hasn’t let it go.
They’re back home now. Everyone’s sitting on the front lawn, grass pressing criss-cross patterns on their skin. Alfred’s making sandwiches in the kitchen. The sun hasn’t set completely, still casting a dullish orange glow over the grounds.
Cassandra loves it outside. The breeze feels nice against her still-warm cheeks.
“When Alfred said ‘no Sundaes after nine’, do you think he meant that as, like, a hard and fast rule, or one that could possibly be broken on special occasions?”
Dick, who is walking on his hands across the lawn, shoots Tim an upside-down look of disapproval. “Stop using Cass’ accomplishments for personal gain.”
“Dick, it’s a Sundae.”
“Greed has really changed you, little brother.”
The slant of Dick’s eyebrows says he’s about to get even more mockingly preachy, but Damian cuts him off with a swift kick aimed at the back of Dick’s knees. Dick doesn’t lose balance at all, just rolls smoothly into a defensive crouch and flashes Damian a sharp smile.
“Circus freak,” Damian rolls his eyes. His hair is spikier than usual and his tie is knotted in a fashion Alfred would call ‘apocalyptic’.
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
Cass’ attention snags on the sound of Duke emerging from the front door, juice boxes in hand. He sticks his tongue out at her as he pads across the lawn.
“You think Alfred will let us watch an R-rated movie on the big screen tonight?” Stephanie asks.
Tim flicks a blade of grass at her. “I’m telling you, Alfred will let us do literally anything if we give him a reason to use the ice cream maker.”
“Okay, true. He seriously loves that thing.”
“The day he brought it home I thought he was gonna try and give it my room.”
“The adoring stares continue to be a little much.”
“Oh,” Duke cuts in, plopping down on the grass next to Steph and handing her a juice box. “Are we talking about Clark and Bruce?”
An eerie and obvious silence descends on the moment. Cass opens one eye to see most of her siblings staring at their hands with sudden, vigorous interest.
“Clark and Bruce are together?” Stephanie gasps dramatically, brandishing her juice box. Cass resists the urge to smack her own forehead.
“ You knew?” Dick says suddenly, feet hitting the ground with a soft thump.
“Hold on,” Tim cuts in, suddenly looking up, “both of you knew?”
Damian looks as if he thinks the conversation is beneath him, but resignedly chimes in, “I also knew.”
Everyone is looking at Cassandra. She closes her eyes and smiles, the noise of the crickets rising up to meet their expectant silence.
“I thought it was very obvious,” she shrugs.
Her confession breaks the dam.
“ All of us knew?”
“Was this a ploy… Did he intentionally let each of us find out in isolation so he could avoid publicly discussing his relationship…”
“Don’t be so paranoid.”
“This is Bruce!”
“Maybe he was blinded by love.”
“ This is Bruce. ”
The animated discussion continues around her, but Cass stops listening, tucks her head closer to Steph’s waist and lets the words fade into meaningless noise. There’s something comforting about the rhythm of their bickering.
Her eyes drift closed. Good day.
"You said 'almost done' an hour ago."
"An hour ago I was trying to placate you," Bruce informs crisply, switching the screens to a security feed on the East Gotham docks. "Now, I'm actually almost done."
Clark pushes off of the wall and comes to stand behind Bruce's chair, sliding his hands along Bruce's shoulders, "That doesn't inspire a whole lot of confidence in your word."
"I guess you'll have to trust me."
Clark doesn't answer. He ducks down and presses a soft kiss behind Bruce's ear, then against the underside of his jaw. Bruce's concentration wavers. Slightly.
"What are you doing?"
"Enjoying quality time with my best guy."
"That's a nauseating turn of phrase, Clark."
"Okay," Clark says easily, and Bruce can hear the smile in his voice, feel his hot breath fan out against the side of his neck.
"This is why I don't let you in here," Bruce huffs irritably.
Clark laughs. "Since when have you not let me in here?"
"Since now. I'm revoking your access."
"Okay," Clark says again, in that same smooth, impervious voice. Bruce types with more intent.
He's actually done, for now. Jason - who took up the task of patrol with minimal complaining while the rest of them watched Cassandra's performance - has made a relatively routine affair of the evening. He had promised to send a report but Bruce isn't sure if he was being sarcastic or not. He's never sure with Jason. It is, however, a good sign that he sent Bruce a text before turning in. 'Spilled burrito juice in the front seat of the Batmobile. Tell Cass congrats.'
Bruce hadn't actually formally lent him the Batmobile, but Rome wasn't built in a day. And neither were months-long sting operations which culminated in Jason attending Thanksgiving dinner at the manor.
"I had lunch with Jason yesterday," he tells Clark.
"The conversation was mostly work-related, but he let me pay. He also sent me a text message today."
Clark doesn't say anything, just brushes a kiss against Bruce's temple. It isn't so bad. It isn't so bad at all.
Bruce sets the displays in the cave to sleep and gathers the papers into the case files in front of him. Clark gives him about thirty seconds to wrap up before spinning his chair around in one even movement, then bracing his hands on the armrests. He is devastatingly handsome in disheveled formalwear. Bruce eyes the undone buttons on his dress shirt.
"Hey," Clark smiles, and leans forward to press a soft kiss on his mouth, and then another, fingers curling into the hair at the base of Bruce's neck. "Thanks for inviting me tonight."
"Well, lucky for you Booster Gold wasn’t available.”
Clark makes a soft humming noise and kisses him again. Bruce can feel the shape of Clark’s smile against his mouth. He braces his hands on Clark's shoulders and pushes him upright, rising up off the chair and curling an arm around Clark's neck.
"So," Clark starts, nose brushing against Bruce's cheek. "How long do you think we have, before one of them comes crashing down those stairs?"
"It may be a mistake to assume one's not already in here."
Though Bruce considers that to be a very real possibility, especially given the events of recent months, it doesn't seem to perturb Clark. If anything he pulls Bruce even closer, a hand skirting underneath the edge of his suit jacket. It's too hard to stop once they get started, so Bruce catches him by the fingers before he can wander, pressing their palms together.
"Remember when you only had one?"
Clark grins, their interlocked hands falling into the sliver of space between them. “When Dick was little - really, really little, it can’t have been more than a few months after you took him in - we were up on the roof one night and he asked me if I’d ever touched a star.”
Bruce tilts his head, moves his thumb back and forth across Clark’s knuckles. “What did you say?”
“He was falling asleep, head halfway to my lap by the time I had an answer." Clark's smile dims into something softer, more nostalgic. "I told him I’d never tried. And promised that if I ever did, I’d take him with me.”
“Lucky he never cashed in on that one.”
“I’m honestly still waiting for him to bring it up.”
Bruce’s attention catches on the dim glow of the reactivated surveillance feed behind Clark’s head. He looks over his own shoulder to see the children scattered along the lawn, Alfred approaching with a sliver platter expertly balanced on his palm. He lifts away the lid and doesn’t even flinch when six pairs of hungry hands descend on the sandwiches underneath.
“Jesus,” Clark laughs, shaking his head. “Feral.”
“Energetic,” Bruce defends.
As he watches them nearly take each others’ eyes out over cured meat, Clark’s hand still in his, the past and the present layer over in his mind. He thinks about a boy of eight years old, laying on the grass and staring at the sky alone. He thinks about deserted hallways that led to dusty bookshelves, and the kind of quiet that used to sink in his skin, weigh him down.
It’s been a long time since the house was empty.
“Come upstairs,” Bruce grips the edges of Clark’s jacket, tugging it straight. “I’ll get you a popsicle.”
“Oh, man. They sure weren’t kidding when they said Bruce Wayne was a classy guy.”
“I do my best.”