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Complication With Optimistic Outcome

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o n e.

The only reason Bruce reads it is because he's in Metropolis and is bored waiting in his limo and the day's Daily Planet is just sitting there on top of the stack of magazines with a Batman headline on the front page. Now something like this he'll usually ignore, but this one says Clark Kent right below the giant picture of a flying blur that may or may not have been him. 

He'll have to look into how Jimmy Olsen from the Daily Planet got that picture. He'll allow it, but he'll still look into it. (And maybe the only reason he'll allow it is because the Batman things Jimmy is assigned to are usually to go with Clark's articles and Clark- it's like he physically can't write unflattering articles about Bruce- about Batman. But we digress.)

BATMAN SERVES JUSTICE and following in a much smaller font, by Clark Kent, it reads. Open serial killer case solved by Gotham's resident hero- the Batman. 

Gotham and near-by New Jersey areas have been terrorized by ongoing killings, declared as the work of a serial killer on the loose by the GCPD. The killer took three victims and would have taken a fourth one- if not for Batman. 

Then the article launches into the facts of the case- details gotten just about right, compressed to the most important bits. Bruce is surprised; Clark never asked him for case details. This is all pure good investigative journalism. Bruce moves a finger over the fine print and corrects himself: he's not surprised, he's impressed. He skims the length of it- it's not very big, about seven or eight hundred words in total, but it's the second half that makes him back track and read it again.

An interview from the almost victim confirms that the Dark Knight swooped in right as the killer prepared his final blow. The Batman took the killer out in no less than a few well aimed punches, and delivered him right to the GCPD in handcuffs, along with DNA paperwork and his own personal typed out notes, and another criminal was put behind bars.

The focus here however, shouldn't be on 'Who is Batman?' The topic has been discussed for many years. What remains usually ignored is this- a statement from an interview with Amelia Monroe, would be victim of the serial killer:

"He came back," she says, after finishing up the technical details. "The important thing was that he came back and put a cape over me. I was wet and shivering, and he took me to the hospital- I was overwhelmed, scared out of my mind, it felt like he knew that and didn't want to overwhelm me further by taking me straight to the cops. He kept asking me simple questions that kept my mind off of what had just happened. It helped me relax- as much as anyone could've in a situation like that. I'm new to Gotham, and I thought he was something to be afraid of. But from a real personal encounter, I can only say this: he is a kind man."

Unmasking the Batman has been a topic of controversy for years. Theorists dedicated to the task tend to skim over these small details- notes of kindness, bravery and at times, self-sacrificial behavior from the Batman- and fail to bring them to light. It's worth noting that, whoever the Caped Crusader is, uses their very considerable resources to be kind, to do more good than harm- a lesson we could all stand to take in trying times.

Bruce moves his nail over the word bravery again and again, till the indent threatens to tear the page and the ink is the tiniest bit smudged, and stares at the black gathered on the tip of his nail. Wonders if Clark means what he writes. To him, it's downright absurd, someone like Clark calling him brave. He narrows his eyes at the paper and then gently puts it in the seat beside him, like it's something precious, and pulls out his phone. 

There's a pattern here. Clark is a good reporter, and his articles are unbiased, but there's always a gentle message there, nudging the reader to see things differently. And so far, Bruce finds that nudge in direction of what Clark really feels and voices in League meetings, and in breaks at the Watchtower. It's not that Bruce pays special attention; just that if there's any educating to be done with the younger members, Clark is the one that does it, and not because it's a duty. He just likes it. And everyone thinks Bruce doesn't care for things like that, but he notices. 

The conclusion is this: Clark's writing is smart and nuanced if you know to look for it, and he never writes what he doesn't agree with. Which points to an obvious truth: Clark thinks he's brave. Bruce can practically feel the blood rushing to his face and head and feels dizzy with it. Surprisingly, it's not a bad feeling.

t w o.

Bruce doesn't know if Clark intended for him to read the article, but there was the slight reprimand along with the compliment. Self-sacrificial behavior . That was extremely ridiculous to Bruce coming from Clark, who had once jumped in front of a Kryptonite bullet for Dick, who had Kevlar lining his bodysuit. The bullet would never have touched Dick's skin, accounting for Dick's training, how quick he was and the Kevlar- but Clark hadn't thought about it, naturally. He'd said he couldn't just stand there and watch someone get shot.

"Gee, it was Kryptonite! That's just stupid, Clark." Dick had voiced what Bruce was thinking in the Watchtower emergency room while he glared at Clark silently from the corner.

 So Bruce bides his time.

Soon enough, right after a big case, he gets taken as hostage as Brucie during daytime and can't really get away. There's a group of very frightened rich people around him who would be ready to sign off on any ransom- but money isn't what the kidnappers want- it's revenge. There's a CEO visiting Gotham in the group who acquired a company and gutted it- which meant mass layoffs. Unemployment for hundreds of people. Bruce ends up with a knife pressed to his throat because he tried to negotiate while keeping up the Brucie act and it came across as assholish more than anything else. He could get out of the position easily, of course, but he's Brucie. And that man isn't supposed to fight. He really needs a power out- the blinds are already closed, but this is a five star restaurant. He's sure their backup generators have backup generators.

The kidnappers get a gun on the CEO's head and more than half the hostages are in tears, and there's nothing Bruce can do here so he decides to call for Clark- not scream it out or anything, but he can practically control his heart rate. It's not like they've discussed the heart rate thing, but Clark always has an ear on him. He'll be here if Bruce lets it go, because Bruce is known for never letting it go. Sure enough, after a few moments when his pulse is thundering in his ears, there's a flash of red and blue and the kidnappers are in a tied up heap in the centre of the room, Clark standing over them with a disappointed look on his face. 

He turns to the rest of the room, who are all rich people in various states of shock. "Is anyone injured?" No one is, Bruce has had an eye on them so he raises his hand.

"Yes, me," he says. There's a fine cut where the blade pressed too hard and his pulse went really high. Clark walks over half instinctually, half worried and swipes a thumb over the cut, like he's checking it over. His finger is cool so Bruce isn't sure why it leaves his skin feeling hotter.

"Just a cut Mr Wayne," he murmurs, eyes flitting around both of Bruce's and his lips can't help but tilt up into his signature smirk for no particular reason. Clark returns the smile and then comes back to himself and goes to call authorities and makes sure everyone is okay. (They really are, Bruce had a careful eye on them. They're just shocked- and anyone with the amount of money you need to have to afford eating at a place like this could use a little shock.)

His publicist books him for a few interviews after that, and he berates himself in his statement- too much good publicity isn't really good for Batman anyways, and ends up targeting Clark’s writing.

"If Batman is so kind ," he sneers at Vicki Vale, "maybe he could be kind in the day as well- I mean I almost died that day would you believe it?!" Bruce thumbs absently at his healed bruise, right where Clark had touched it. "Where would we be without Superman? There's no conceit and deception with that man. He isn't even from this planet, but he's been selfless for it and us time and again. Batman could stand to learn from him."

He wonders if Clark will just read it as mocking- he hopes not, because he was being sincere. He hopes he's made his appreciation that much clear that Clark reads his words right. But if there's one thing Bruce trusts it's Clark's friendship and his ability to see the best in people. 

He still buys a subscription for the Daily Planet and looks for Clark's articles, sets up a feed online for anything that mentions Clark and Batman in the same thing. The Gotham Gazette is getting boring anyways.

t h r e e.

The backlash he gets on Twitter from both Gothamites and non-Gothamites from the interview is really something. It's surprising to see how protective people are of Batman- his interview article spurs the rich people debate again, and then the usual: people trying to narrow down which one of Gotham's elite could be the Batman. In any case, the hostage situation has made national news and is a casual topic of discussion for people with too much time on their hands now. 

Bruce's PR team usually handles his social media. He doesn't have time nor the interest in managing any of his accounts. But when he sees that little notification on the feed he's set up in the cave one morning after a particularly long patrol, his heart almost skips a beat (almost). Clark's tweeted about him: As a reporter, I don't like to take sides with the vigilantism argument, but let's cut Batman some slack. with a link attacked to it- a Gotham Gazette article declaring Batman solving three back-to-back cases: an almost murder, a kidnapping and one rogue attack from the Riddler. Nothing very major, but cases that needed some classic, old fashioned detective work. That was coupled with two Justice League projects he was heading. Of course, the general public didn't know that , but Clark did.

So he gives in and asks his PR team for his login credentials immediately, and vauges Clark with his own tweet: I don't know about Metropolis, but we don't really like slackers in Gotham City.

Clark quote-tweets him directly with an image of a scoreboard from the latest Gotham-Metropolis match (in which Gotham had eaten shit like always), and says, You don't? So explain this.

He's grinning at his phone, staring at Clark's reply. Alfred coughs loudly and Bruce looks up to see him, Tim and Cass staring at him knowingly.

"If my rule of no devices at the breakfast table is broken again," Alfred says primly, "You three will manage your own breakfasts." Tim and Cass put their phones away- so does Bruce, but they keep grinning at each other and shooting Bruce side glances, like they're in on a joke funnier than Bruce's silly online war with Clark. He doesn't let it weigh on his mind- as long as the kids are happy.

Clark's Gotham v. Metropolis tweet, though restarts the old Gotham versus Metropolis debate, and suddenly no one's talking about vigilantes anymore- just the usual stuff, which city is better. Tim tells him it's threatening to turn into a meme. People blow up his notifications with Gotham's stats (some game they won years ago) and Bruce can only take so much, so he tweets again: Hey, I tried my best but the man's got a point.

And Clark retweets that with nothing but a smiley face.

"I can't believe you ate shit from Uncle Clark in a Twitter feud," Jason comments in the cave that night.

"Did not," Bruce protests. It's weak. "It was a tactical retreat."

"Tactical retreat my ass ." He sounds downright gleeful. "You really lost. You took the L. Go Team Superman!"

"Alright, a little bit..."

Bruce relents and goes along with it and smiles to himself. And when he thinks about the stupid smiley emoji, he doesn't feel like he lost at all. Go Team Superman indeed.

f o u r.

LexCorp tries to move into Gotham.

It makes sense, because they're big in the Tristate Area, and a few cities on the other coast, but anyone who knows anything more than that knows it's futile; they won't last doing anything local here, at the very least. Tim whines about how stupid it is that he has to deal with it as CEO of WayneTech, and pawns his launching party invitation off on Bruce.

"You're going to have to go," Lucius tells him in a mildly amused tone. "We are already dealing with a lot, especially Tim, and it has to be either you or him at that gala. And he's not going."

Bruce grimaces. "I've done a hundred of these. What's one more."

So Bruce wears one of the new suits Alfred has had ordered and straps down for a boring evening full of nonsense, champagne, corporate mingling and his simpering fake personality. He hopes he can feign drunkenness and get out of it early, maybe even push down the required three-and-a-half hours attendance down to three. Maybe he'll have to spill his liquor all over himself.

It's not a good look for him from the father angle but he's desperate to get out and get ready for patrol as soon as possible. And he hates Lex Luthor with a burning passion. He can get away with it every once in a while. "Wine Dad" is apparently a thing.

All those plans go out of the window as soon as he sees Clark is covering the event for the Planet. He can't help but track Clark's movements in the periphery of his eye. They haven't really met after the Twitter thing. There have been Justice League meetings, but only two with both Clark and Bruce in them and Bruce had to leave early on one. Neither of them had lingered after the second one- in any case they haven't really talked about it. Bruce isn't sure if there was anything to talk about. It felt like there was some different kind of charged air between them- but not exactly in a bad way.

Bruce just didn't want any of this negatively affecting anything League related. He couldn't afford to do that to the mission when people needed their help.

He's chatting pleasantly with some west coast VC when he realizes they've walked straight into Clark, who politely excuses himself from the conversation he’s in.

"Miss Mill, Mr Wayne, pleasure to meet you. Care to comment on LexCorp's move to Gotham?"

"Pleasure’s all mine, and of course we will," she says before going off with a pleasant statement that she has no doubt written down and memorized for the event. "And now Mr Wayne- oh you two must already know each other." She looks amused- so she knows.

"Yes," Bruce says, smiling. "From some site, what's it called again- Twitter?" He usually fakes the smiles, but Clark is trying very hard to fight one of his own and that makes Bruce's own genuine.

The VC laughs and excuses herself. "I'll leave you two to it, then."

"Mr Kent," Bruce says once she leaves and Clark is giving Bruce a glare, and still fighting that smile. "Here's my statement: On behalf of WayneTech, we wish LexCorp our best wishes on their move to Gotham."

"Do you?" Clark asks in his shrewd reporter voice.

"Why would I not- it's really not going to do any damage to our chances in the market," Bruce says snarkily, eyeing Luthor with distaste. Then turns back to Clark. "Do not quote me on that." And Clark actually laughs- out loud, and Bruce feels a rush of pride.

"About the Twitter thing," he says, "we're okay?"

"I wasn't under the impression that we were not," Clark says, amused more than not. "Bruce, I'm a journalist. I've had way worse than this. But for the record- I still think we ought to cut Batman some slack."

Bruce looks at Clark carefully. "Sounds like you've thought about it."

Clark swallows and Bruce can't help but follow the movement of his throat. "I have."

"I think that self sacrificing comment in the article was rich coming from you," he says, because all his rules have gone out of the window apparently.

"Was it?" Clark's face has gone fully straight now, and it feels like the good rapport they'd built up has suddenly disappeared.

"Yes," is all Bruce says, because they've always agreed to disagree about each other's methods, but more often than not Clark will rush into the thick of things without any plans and they'll fight about it at the Watchtower later and never talk about it after; they've never needed to.

"Since you have a lot of thoughts about it, you wouldn't mind giving the Daily Planet an exclusive then?" Clark says testily. "At least I can have something productive come out of this."

"Of course," Bruce grits out. "If you're in town tomorrow, I'd be happy to give you all my thoughts."

"I'll mail your assistant," Clark says, suddenly the very model of professionalism, like they don’t email on a weekly basis for the League, and turns on his heel before stalking away. Bruce glares at him. Watching Clark go is an ugly feeling inside his chest.

f i v e.

Bruce is sitting slumped in the high backed chair when Clark arrives. He's groggy because of patrol; even with the entire family on the streets and rooftops, it's always tense a little after a major case, and Bruce has recently had three in quick succession. 

"Master Bruce," Alfred says, contained exasperation in his voice as he opens the door and Clark steps through. He's dressed in one of his ill fitting but clean and pressed suits, and has a typical office bag with him. His hair's combed to the side, curls gelled neatly in formation. Bruce hasn't seen that often on him; when they meet, Clark's hair is usually windblown and that annoying curl is always on his forehead. 

Bruce on the other hand, is in a fluffy robe and one of the kids' bunny slippers. Alfred shoots him a dirty look for the untidiness as he leaves, promising Clark tea and biscuits when they're done.

He stands up and his knees almost buckle, but he's used to the numbness an entire night of running around the town and two hours of sleep brings. "Mr Kent."

"Mr Wayne," Clark says, not looking at him. He's digging around his bag and pulls out an old looking recorder with something like triumph. Bruce offers him a hand and Clark shakes it. His grip is cool and firm, like always.

"Please, sit."

"Alright, I'd like to start off record, just to get you comfortable," Clark says, pulling out a notepad that has a few neat lines written on it. It makes Bruce stiffen immediately, because since when does Clark need notes to talk to him? Clark notices the shift in air immediately, and some of yesterday's stiffness threatens to seep back into the conversation. Clark looks down, studiously avoiding Bruce's gaze.

"I don't need to. I basically give one of these every other week," Bruce says, and Clark shoots him an annoyed look and presses his lips in a thin line.

"Fine," he says, turning on the recorder and putting it on the desk between them. "What are your views on vigilantism in general?"

"It's not a general thing," Bruce says sharply. "We have vigilantes because there's an absurd amount of dressed up criminals going around terrorizing good people. I wouldn't call that a general occurrence."

Clark is calm. "I just want to know your feelings on them in a capacity not limited to the Batman or Gotham, Mr Wayne."

"What vigilantes are there, outside of Gotham? We house a majority of them, I believe."

"Green Arrow, Black Canary in STAR City. Nightwing in Bludhaven. The Flash- all of them, Aquaman, Superman-"

"All associated with the Justice League. That's hardly vigilantism if they're vetted as law enforcement."

"Hardly, Mr Wayne," Clark says, starting to look a little annoyed. "Even then- so is the Batman."

"Is he?" Bruce muses, smirking lightly in a way he knows will annoy Clark further. Batman, officially and for the general public is still somewhat of a myth. And this is an on record conversation.

"Alright, what are your thoughts on Batman then?" Clark says. He knows when to let something go, when to pivot the line of questioning. 

"Compared to some folks we have here? The villains with the gimmicks? I think he's good."

"You publicly criticized him in a recent interview," Clark says. Bruce smiles in a shallow, Brucie way.

"Hardly criticism, maybe I would just have liked it better if Gotham's resident hero, as you've called him many times, would be available to rescue the people of Gotham. " Bruce pauses. "He's not without faults. It's how a teacher reprimands a student- they only want the student to get better."

"So you expect him to be perfect and be available at all times for this? It sounds unrealistic."

Bruce shrugs. "He's the one who took up the mask."

Clark is glaring at him now, and Bruce can tell why. This conversation feels a lot like avoidance and beating around the bush. Like they're trying to find it and they're looking  for it everywhere except the place they should be looking. Like they're talking in circles around the point and can't reach it. It's unfulfilling.

"Can you give me a straight answer, please?" Clark says, breaking somewhat. "Jesus, Bruce, I'm trying to talk to you. You say you think Batman is a good guy, then you turn around and hold him up to impossible standards. Why are you doing this to yourself?"

Bruce eyes the recorder stonily. "I... don't understand Mr Kent." He pauses and the silence feels unbearable and volatile. "I think I'll take you up on that offer to get comfortable off record."

Clark looks completely betrayed. "Stop doing that. It's me! We've known each for years and- oh, fuck the recorder, Bruce, it never even leaves my person."

Bruce feels like he's crossed some sort of line; he never meant to imply he didn't trust Clark. That's not even something he's questioned in years; he gave Clark his identity and that was that. But he stays silent and Clark scoffs and starts shoving his things into his bag messily and stands up, and Bruce the thought of him leaving makes Bruce feel that ugly feeling again so he crosses over to the other side of the desk so fast it could be superspeed, and grabs Clark's wrist just as he starts to walk away.

"I'm sorry," he says. "Let's talk."

+ o n e.

"Well?" Clark says. His foot taps against the carpet. "Do you want me to get the recorder out for this? This is just us."

"I read your article. I felt... I felt conflicted. I read some others too, and-"

"Because I defend you?" Clark asks. "Bruce, we're- we fight, but that's internal League business. We have disagreements. That doesn’t mean that I don’t… that I..."

"You think I'm brave," Bruce says, feeling bold. Clark half chuckles, half scoffs kind of exasperatedly.

"Um, yeah. That’s not a discovery, Mr Detective." 

"I don't understand," Bruce says. "How? You hold up entire burning buildings, and stop hordes of aliens, and stop bridges from collapsing, and there's an international incident every week that you smooth over- and you still save cats out of trees. You inspire children to quit bullying, and you make us all- everyone braver. In this day and age, you're hope itself, Clark. How am I brave here? I didn't- don’t believe it."

Clark is smiling. "You should,"  he says, taking a step forward. "Because for everything I do in the light, you do the same- no you do more in the dark. I hold up burning buildings and you pull people out. You take Kryptonite for me and you've run so many international missions that didn't need to come to the light, I've lost count. And people are happier and safer for it. I'm hope and you're justice, and doesn't hope follow justice? Doesn't justice follow hope? There isn't one without the other, and God, you're stupid."

Clark's kept stepping forward and now they're face to face and he can no doubt hear Bruce's heart picking pace. 

"Am I?" he asks, low.

"Yes," Clark whispers, and kisses him, lips warm in contrast to his cool hands which travel gently over Bruce's arms, under the sleeves of the robe and it makes him shiver in the best possible way. He thinks he feels the opposite of what he did when Clark walked away. Clark has a knee between his legs when there's a polite knock on the door and Alfred calling for tea. Clark laughs and they separate. "To be continued."

“Wait.” Bruce holds on to Clark’s neck for another moment, and Clark lets him, as if soaking it in. Bruce can relate; he can’t help but stare into Clark’s blue eyes, graze a thumb over his jaw, fingers tangled in the base of his curls. "Hope and justice, huh?"

Clark's answering smile is brilliant. "Hope and justice."

f i n.