“Bruce…I just, can you come over? I need – no, don’t – just Bruce, I need your help.”
Bruce received Clark’s message four hours after it had been left. He’d been working – actual Bruce Wayne, CEO work that kept his company afloat – and Tam always made him leave his phone in his office when he had board meetings. “Just to keep your attention where it needs to be,” she told him pointedly.
It took a moment before his phone to recognise the message, and he was still only half paying attention when he put the phone to his ears to listen. But Clark’s voice – pitched high and nervous and scared – had made him feel as if the ground had disappeared from beneath him. He barely gave a warning of his departure when he left, but he did text Tam from the car.
Emergency. Finish up tomorrow.
Get in early, was her only reply, and Bruce was reminded to be grateful for her support.
It takes just over half an hour to get from Gotham to Metropolis. This time of day, the bridge was always jam-packed with people making the commute. He called Clark, because the tightness in his chest was too much, but it rang into voicemail.
“It’s me,” he stopped, licked his lips, and then, “I’m on my way.”
His leg bounced erratically to the sound of horns and rumbling engines. He gave Alfred a call, just to give him something to do with his hands. He told him that he got a call from Clark, that something might be wrong, that he’s not sure. Alfred’s calming voice made it easier to breathe.
“I’ll be back as soon as possible,” he promised, “Make sure Damian eats before he goes out. And tell Cass I left her throwing stars on the work bench – they should be ready to go if she wants to use them.”
“I’ll take care of the horde,” Alfred responded, “You take care of Mr. Kent.”
He tells his driver – Raymond, Bruce made sure he made the effort to know – to drop him off around the block and to take some time for himself. Two hours at least. He’ll call if something changes. Raymond tipped his cap in agreement.
Bruce took long strides to cover the distance as fast as he could. Clark lived in an apartment block, but Bruce knew that the front door had been unsecure for at least three weeks now. He’d been unhappy when Clark had told him, even more so with how nonchalant he had been about it. Bruce supposed there was little that could phase Superman when it came to safety, but the idea that something could happen was enough for Bruce to offer a bedroom at his Manor until it was fixed.
“Don’t be ridiculous Bruce, I’ll be fine,” Clark had snorted.
The front door wasn’t fixed now, and the hinges creaked with the force he yanked it open. Inside was still, silent. Clark’s apartment was on the top floor, and Bruce takes the stairs two at a time. His footsteps echo and each sound pounds into his chest, a reminder of the urgency in Clark’s voice and his mind goes wild on the nightmares he might find beyond.
The door to Clark’s apartment was closed, and Bruce knocked, hurried. Inside, a small voice says “it’s open”, and Bruce pushes in.
The apartment was in disarray. Broken tables, chairs without legs, pillows pulled apart and vases smashed into shards. And, in the middle of it all, Clark laid with Conner perched on his chest. His head was turned towards the door, and those brilliant blue eyes watch him step into the mess. Alive, Bruce breathes, still alive.
He taps his foot against a cabinet door, pulled away and abandoned far from where it was supposed to be. “What happened here?”
“Conner,” Clark admitted.
Bruce looked disbelieving. “Conner?” his eyes flicker to the child and back, “One kid did all this?”
“One super kid,” Clark corrected, but still looked sheepish.
“You called me,” Bruce reminded him.
Clark winced. “Yeah, I – Conner was, and I couldn’t…”
Parenting woes, Bruce assures himself, nothing life threatening. It makes tension leave his shoulders, and irritation sweep in. He folded his arms across his chest and scowled. “You couldn’t have told me that before I rushed over here?”
“Conner broke my phone. It didn’t feel right to use the League’s communications for this.”
Clark looked so pathetic, lips angled downwards and hair unkempt. It made him easier to forgive. Or maybe Bruce was just weak against the charms of Clark Kent. Bruce sighed, unfurled his arms and let his shoulders drop. He shrugged off his coat, and draped it over the damaged sofa. He unbuttoned his suit jacket to lay in the space beside Clark.
He grunted when he lowered himself onto his back, interlocked his hands on his stomach and crossed his legs at the ankle. He looked at Clark. Clark was watching him. Conner continued to slumber.
Conner had been a surprise, if nothing else. An investigation into Cadmus had discovered him, only days old but aged to two. Superman’s clone. Superman’s son. Clark’s hands had shook when he reached to hold the boy. It was the first time that the child had been held, the first time he’d been a boy and not an experiment. Conner was grown to replace Superman, and it seemed only fitting that Superman raise him.
But Clark had never been a parent. He had experience with Bruce’s children, older in age and in experience but no less victims of another’s game. He’d fought alongside Dick, spoke relationships with Tim. He’d sparred with Damian, because the little shit wouldn’t stop until he could best the alien (he still hadn’t managed it, but he was getting closer each time. The last time, he’d even called Clark “Kent”, even if he’d left immediately after doing so). He’d taught Cass sign language, when she got frustrated learning to speak for the first time. He’d helped Jason through his rebirth, because he was one of the only ones who understood.
But Conner was something else. A Kent. His.
“I’m sorry I worried you,” Clark whispered.
“I’m happy you aren’t dead,” Bruce responded.
When Clark laughed, his chest vibrated. Conner snuffled and whined unhappily. Clark stopped breathing, squeezed his eyes shut. Bruce watched the boy frown unhappily, fists clenching and unclenching, but he didn’t wake. Clark had never looked so relieved.
“Parenting is never easy,” Bruce told him quietly.
Clark pressed his lips together and his eyebrows angled downwards. This close, Bruce could see the big crack down his left lense. “I don’t think I can do this.”
“No parent thinks they can,” Bruce said. He certainly wasn’t. He thought of the weeks when Dick had first arrived, when their relationship had been aggressively Bat-based. He thought of Jason, and how badly he’d messed that up. And of Tim, when he thought he knew what he was doing. There was no knowing what you were doing, Bruce had realised; there was just being aware of your mistakes.
“I just – he’s so young, he doesn’t know his own strength, and he cries, all the time. He doesn’t like milk or chips or apples – I think he likes bananas, he almost ate a whole one before he threw the rest at the wall,” Clark recounted, “He hates how I put nappies on him, but he’s not potty trained yet – how do you even potty train a child anyways?”
Bruce pressed his lips to smother his laughter. But looking at Clark’s distressed face proved to be too much, and it spluttered undignified from him. Clark was frowning, but Bruce cannot stop grinning.
“I’ll google it,” Bruce vowed.
Clark didn’t look relieved. “I’m not ready for this, Bruce. Conner might be better off with someone who knows what they’re doing.”
Bruce shook his head, made a noise of disagreement. “No. What Conner needs is his father, he needs you. There is no one else.” There was a long silence, before Bruce continued, “And answer me honestly. You look at this kid, and you think you can give him up?”
Clark looked down. Bruce didn’t know what he was thinking, but he could guess. Conner looked like his father – same black curls, same nose, and same lip shape. Same smile. Same strength. Same ‘S’ upon his chest. He sleeps with his legs splayed on either side of his father’s waist, and Clark held him in place with a hand that looks far too big against the child’s back. Bruce watched Conner being drawn closer to his father, and Clark brushed a hand through the boy’s hair. It pulled and sprung back into place.
“No,” Clark confessed.
“You can do this,” Bruce told him, and Clark echoed it back. “And if you need help, you aren’t the first to have a super powered baby boy.” Bruce nudges Clark’s shoulder. “And Martha didn’t do too badly with hers.”
Martha always made Clark smile. (She made Bruce smile too).
They laid like that, not speaking a word. Bruce likely would have stayed there for a long while, but he was aware of the ache in his back and Raymond idling nearby. Even more so, he knew that he couldn’t just leave Clark and Conner to this disaster zone.
He moved to his feet, stretched his back until it clicked. He tugged the shirt free from his pants, and loosened his tie. He rolled his shoulders. “Pack a bag,” Bruce ordered.
“Huh?” Clark blinked. Hovering above him, Bruce thought he looked so human.
Bruce repeated himself. “I can’t let you say here. Look at this mess. Hardly safe for the kid.”
“But he’ll just break your stuff,” Clark responded, aghast by the prospect, but Bruce shrugged, and retorted, “I was thinking of redecorating anyway.”
Clark frowned. “Bruce-“
Bruce arched an eyebrow and waited. Clark stared back at him stubbornly, but it didn’t take him long to cave. As someone who had battled against him, Bruce thought that was because he didn’t particularly want to stay in the ruins of his apartment either. Clark stood effortlessly, child balanced on his hip.
“I’ll hold him,” Bruce offered, and Clark doesn’t hesitate. Bruce knew that kind of trust meant something.
Conner looked at him with sleepy eyes, not unhappy but confused by Bruce’s presence. He was smarter than most two year olds – Bruce had Star Labs look into the creatures perched at his head and their telepathic abilities, and he had done the cognitive scans himself – even if verbally and in social growth he was very much younger.
“Hey Conner,” Bruce murmured, “Remember me?”
The boy made a noise, and a little hand held onto Bruce’s tie. He thought that meant yes.
“Okay, ready,” Clark said, adjusting a duffle bag and nanny bag on either side of him. Conner turned at the sound of his father’s voice, and the stark ripping sound signified that he’d brought Bruce’s tie along with him. The fabric hangs uselessly from Conner’s hand, and what is left behind fluttered free from beneath the pressed collar of Bruce’s shirt.
Clark began to get that ‘I’m out of my depth’ look on his face once more, and Bruce put a stop to it with a shake of his head. “I have more than enough ties, Clark. Don’t worry about it.”
Conner is wide awake for the journey into Gotham. He’s a squirmy little thing, has to look at everything. He’s just about forming words, but he’s more than aware of what is happening around him. He pointed at streetlamps and repeated “la-ts” until Clark acknowledged him with “that’s it Conner”.
When the boy clambered into Bruce’s lap, he raised the child to look out the window and said, “How about this Conner? Can you say car?”
“Ca,” Conner said. “Ca. Ca. Ca. Ca.”
Conner frowned at him. “Ca.”
“Alright kid. Close enough.” Bruce relented, and couldn’t resist ducking his head to rub his nose to Conner’s. It made the boy laugh, and press a hand to his nose.
He can feel Clark’s eyes on him. “Don’t tell anyone about this.” Bruce grunted.
“As if anyone would believe me,” Clark replied automatically, but he’s still grinning. Bruce felt heat rise on the back of his neck, and ignored the father in favour of the son.
Alfred was at the front door when they arrived. “Master Bruce. Mr. Kent. Little Kent.” He greeted, and then pinned Bruce with a look. “You couldn’t have called ahead?”
“Didn’t want Conner to get his hands on it,” Bruce explained with a shrug. “He’s already crushed one phone today.”
Conner blew a spit bubble.
Alfred hummed, accepting but perhaps not entirely believing. “I’m sure.”
“Anyone home?” Bruce questioned, and Alfred answered immediately, “Master Richard was injured and is refusing treatment, so Miss Gordon is dealing with him. Miss Cassandra and Master Damian are out. Master Timothy is investigating something in the Batcave. Master Jason has yet to return home.” (He hadn’t been home for a few days, but Jason would return when he was comfortable, Bruce knew that. He’d just have to make sure he left a window open).
Alfred looked to Clark, “I’ll prepare a room for you and Little Kent.”
“Thank you Alfred,” Clark was heartfelt, and Alfred was fond when he smiled.
Bruce’s attention is already drifting to Dick, and he’s absentminded in his gratitude. Dick would be in his bedroom, and Bruce can hear him arguing with Barbara down the hallway. The indignation in his voice meant he was fine, but Bruce needed to see it for himself.
“Dick.” He says.
“Hey Dad.” And Bruce still wasn’t used to that word.
“Good, Bats is here – can you tell your son to just sit still?” Barbara is irritated through her worry, and Bruce knew that she is but a few minutes away from tactical force. He’d been on the receiving end a few times.
“I’m fine Dad, I swear. It was just a graze,” Dick insisted.
Bruce folded his arms across his chest and scowled. “Do as Barbara tells you.”
“Dad- oh sweet, you brought Conner.”
Clark lingered in the doorway, and looked concerned. “You okay Dick? What happened?”
“It’s nothing Clark, promise,” and Dick smiled, big and charming, “Can I hold him?”
“After you’ve gotten your arm bandaged,” Bruce interjected. He arched an eyebrow and waited. Dick didn’t look happy about it, but held the limb out to be tended to. He remained still and wriggled when Barbara released him. He gave Bruce a look that clearly said ‘satisfied’ and when Bruce gave a nod of acceptance, Dick made grabby hands at the child.
Conner mimicked the gesture, and made no complaints to being handed over. Bruce wondered whether that was curiosity or just something he was used to. Cadmus had many scientists – Bruce had read all their files. Conner laughed when Dick tickled him, made grabs for his fingers.
“Yeah, you know who your brother is,” Dick was elated.
Clark blushed visibly, and Bruce felt that warmth on his neck again. “Dick…”
“What?” He feigned innocence. Barbara smirked openly.
“Bro-er, bro-er, bro-er,” Conner chanted. He looked to Clark. “Bro-er.”
Clark hesitated, but he smiled, reached out to run a hand through his child’s hair. “Yeah Con. Brother.”
“Bro-er,” Conner cheered, and clapped his hands against Dick’s cheeks. The sound resonates, and Dick winced.
“Strong little guy aren’t you?” he commented, and drew his face away to rub at his cheeks. He will bruise, Bruce knew, and Clark did too.
“I’m so sorry,” Clark sounded horrified again, but Dick is smiling: “Don’t worry about it. It’s all good. What’s a few bruises between brothers?”
Barbara smiled encouragingly. “We’ll work on it.” she promised.
Bruce nodded, reached out to wrap his hand around Clark’s bicep and squeeze comfortingly. “We will.”
It solidified, and Clark nodded, slow at first and then more confidently. Bruce lingered, and then lets his hand drop to his side. Clark’s heat escaped him too quickly, and his fingers curl into his palm like it will allow him to hold on for just a second longer.
Later, Clark lowered Conner onto the bed, into the pile of pillows arranged to keep him from rolling off. Bruce watched from the doorway to the bedroom. Clark dimmed the lights, and joined him.
“Thank you,” Clark said quietly, “For letting us stay.”
“Anytime,” Bruce assured. He meant it. “We should get him his own bed though.”
Something not easily broken. Lucius will enjoy himself figuring that one out.
“You don’t have to,” Clark started.
“I want to.” Bruce cut him off.
They stood and stared at each other for a moment, and Bruce thought if there was going to be a time to kiss him…
He didn’t kiss Clark.
Clark kissed him.
It was soft, barely a brush of lips, but it stole Bruce’s breath from him. And as quickly as it came, it went, and Clark was looking flustered. “Night Bruce,” he said, and disappeared behind the closed door.
Bruce stared at it for a moment. Flicked his tongue across his lips and tasted Clark.
Somewhere behind, he hears, “Whoo go dad – ouch, Barbs, that hurt!”
Bruce’s lips curled upwards, despite himself. In this house, there was little that could stay secret.
The next day, Damien watchad Conner and Clark over the breakfast table. Clark had been right about Conner’s aversion to food, but he seemed to enjoy milk soaked cheerios, even if a lot of the milk was getting onto the floor.
“Will he always make such a mess?” he frowned unhappily.
“He’s young. Give him a chance,” Tim elbowed Damian in the side. He frowned, pressed into his hand to his side. He likely would have thrown something at his brother’s head if Cass hadn’t moved the orange just out of reach.
“You would think an experiment would have better motor skills,” Damien continued to point out.
Dick pushed a hand through his brother’s hair, forced his head down briefly. “Be nice to your brother.”
Bruce reached for his coffee cup for a long drink. Clark ducked his head and pretended to be so entirely focused in wiping milk from Conner’s grubby hands.
“Brother?” Cass said, and tilted her head curiously. She tugged on Clark’s sleeve and signed did you finally tell him?
The tips of Clark’s ears were pink. Not words as such.
Cassandra’s laugh was wonderful, delighted even. Dick is wriggled his eyebrows, and Tim is making an excited ‘o’ face.
Bruce took pity, even if he feels light at the happiness of his family. “Alright, I’ve got to get to work – so do you,” he pointed at Clark. “Boys, no fighting. Help each other with Conner. Keep him away from anything irreplaceable.”
“Call me if anything major happens,” Clark interjected. He looked anxious. This was the first time he’d been without the boy since they found him.
“And do your homework,” Bruce added.
The boys echoed promises, and Alfred assured that he had all the children at hand. Bruce clapped him on the shoulder, and thought that he had no idea where he would be without his guardian.
“I’ll just get Conner cleaned up,” Clark said, standing and adjusting the boy on his hip.
“Meet you at the cars darling,” Bruce smiled charmingly, pressed a kiss to Conner’s forehead and then another onto Clark’s lips before making an exit.
Clark met him flustered and baby-less, cracked glasses in place. “You kissed me.”
“You kissed me.” Bruce shrugged. “Want to do it again?”
An affectionate smile tugged on Clark’s lips. “After work,” he promised, and Bruce has every intention of holding him to it.
(Jason returned home to find the house in disarray, and Damian with a slumbering child in his lap.
“What the fuck?” he blurted.
“Father gave us the responsibility for childcare. Conner seems to like me,” Damian tilted his head as if considering the possibility. “It surprised me.”
“Isn’t that Kent’s kid?” Jason questioned, and Damian answered, “Yes, but apparently, since Father had grown fond of Kent, he’s our brother now.”
“Brother?” Jason repeated, thought and then laughed. “Alright. Old man finally did it. Took him long enough.”
Damian sighed his agreement. “It has been tiresome, and I suppose the alien is decent enough.”
Jason thought back to the time after death, when he had been angry and shaking, uncontrollable, couldn’t breathe for it all, and the way that Clark had wiped the blood from his cheeks and let him borrow clothes so that Bruce wouldn’t know. He remembered the conversations, how they made him feel like Jason again and not just Red Hood. He echoed back, “Yeah. Decent enough.” He shook his head and spoke strongly. “Well, let me get a look at him.”
Damian frowned. “Don’t wake him up.”
“I’m not going to wake him up,” Jason insisted.
He did just that, and a hole was punched through the floor. Jason hadn’t been expecting that.
Conner liked to get his hand into the white strands of hair and hold onto them, and Jason smiled into the cheery face. “Brother,” he murmured, “Alright then.”)