Clark knew that Bruce had brought this second meeting about on purpose. Bruce liked putting Clark in these types of situations. The ones he could only escape if a rare opportunity presented itself. But somehow, the Dark Knight usually managed to seal off any and all possible exits, especially if his prey had managed to slip away previously. He always learned from his mistakes.
They weren't in some small time diner this time. He couldn't just walk out.
No. Bruce Wayne had personally called Perry White, head of the Daily Planet, and requested that one of their reporters, Clark Kent, cover his newest fundraiser event being held at the Gotham's own City Hall.
Everyone knew that Bruce Wayne always got his way, which is why now, dressed in a sleek and professional tie and suit combo, that Superman hid himself behind a pair of thick glasses, a note pad and his alter ego, talking to various patrons while being followed by a grinning Mr. Wayne. After the flashes of only a few dozen cameras in his partner's direction, did the Kryptonian get a chance to talk to Bruce personally.
"You could have picked a quieter place for us to talk," Clark grumbled, stuffing his note pad in his pocket. He noticed Bruce casually snag a glass of wine off a traveling server. "And called me instead of Perry," the Man of Steel added resentfully. His boss expected him to stay through out this entire event, which is just what Bruce wanted.
And Bruce Wayne always got what he wanted.
The billionaire gave a small smile ignoring the glass he held in his hand. He did a quick glance around before restarting his conversation with Clark. "If I had done that we wouldn't be talking," he stated flatly, his bubbly and cheerful playboy routine completely gone. "Just because you left our last conversation with out the intent of finishing it doesn't mean it's over."
Clark's blue eyes lowered behind his frames. "If that's why you dragged me out here then you can—"
"That's exactly why I brought you here." Bruce's own hues narrowed at his teammate. "You cant' keep running from this."
"I'm handling it."
Bruce raised an unamused eyebrow, setting his untouched drink down on a decorated side table. He slipped his hands casually in his pockets, closely observing the other man. "Handling it? Are you now?" he slowly spoke, his voice soft. If Clark didn't have super hearing he probably would be demanding for Bruce to speak up. But Bruce's quiet tone was proving a point. Everything he did was to prove a point.
"Look. This whole mess—"
"It's only become a mess because you've allowed it to get this far."
Now, if Clark hadn't been a man of restraint, he would have had a few choice words for Bruce at that particular moment. He couldn't believe that Bruce, of all people, was telling him he wasn't handling this situation correctly. It was ironic for Clark really. It was Bruce who had been so untrusting the night they had found Superboy, had so many suspicions circling around him and why the boy needed to be monitored. But for the past few weeks now, he'd been asking Clark to do something he simply couldn't do in such a short time.
Basically, Bruce was telling Clark to 'get over it' in his own, strange way.
"What do you want me to do?" Clark demanded towards his friend, his arms thrown out in exasperation. Bruce scowled. "You're asking me to be this boy's father. I can't do that, Bruce." The Kryptonian sighed rubbing two of his fingers between his eyes. "I... I know I should, but I can't. I won't."
There seemed to be a slight stroke of understanding that graced Bruce's sharp features. He watched Clark for a few moments before speaking. "He disturbs you. He reminds you of something terrifying, something that's been troubling you long before his arrival. It's unfair to take your problems out on him. After what he's been through, he needs you."
Clark snapped his attention away from Bruce and to the patrons roaming the room in their expensive attire. He folded his arms, his super hearing listening to bits and pieces of conversation that floated around the room. Anything was better than listening to Bruce pick him apart. Superboy did trouble him, did disturb him. He was made from him.
Someone had gotten a hold of his DNA.
That thought alone was enough to set the Man of Steel of into a sprout of spiraling questions and theories. He knew Bruce had to be wondering the same things, but it was so unlike the Dark Knight to encourage interaction with Superboy, especially since the clone was something that not only the pair of them had feared, but the League as well.
But maybe Bruce knew something he didn't...
A familiar, nasally shout echoed through Clark's ears bringing a light smile to his face and melting his confusion.
"You said Barbara was going to be here!" whined a young boy. Both Clark and Bruce loosened their postures upon seeing Bruce's ward emerge from the sea of people. Clark watched with interest as Bruce gave a slick smile towards Dick, extending his arm out and pulling his boy into a one armed embrace. Dick looked up at the billionaire suspiciously, unimpressed by the gesture. "I could be out, y'know, doing something fun instead of being trapped here! You totally lied about her coming so I'd be force to suffer."
"Afraid so. But, if Alfred is making me come, I'm making you," Bruce explained watching the younger with a small amount of pride. Dick scoffed at the explanation.
"It's not like you're alone. You have, Mr. Kent," Dick pointed towards the reporter, rolling his eyes. Clark always found it amusing when Dick called him by his Earth name; he always added a playful spin to it. Dramatically, Dick clung onto Bruce's arm, bright blue eyes glaring up at the older man. "This is such a disaster. Heavy on the dis. I'm bored outta my mind!"
Clark let out a small chuckle. He had always enjoyed Dick. He was so unlike his mentor in so many ways that made the pair of them a great balancing act. He was the light to Bruce's dark. Not to mention, he had given Bruce that line of hope that he had lost along his crusade. Clark had seen the change in Bruce when he had taken Dick in those long six years ago. And though Bruce never came out and openly showed his love for the boy in the form of smothering hugs or constant kisses, Clark knew that Bruce cared about that kid more than anything. He'd do anything for him.
And then a cold feeling plummeted into Clark's stomach.
This was all part of Bruce's plan. Bruce had brought Dick along for this very reason. Bruce was trying to instill this very thought into Clark's mind. He was trying to have Clark see what he could have if he only gave Superboy a chance.
Clark felt himself get a bit heated upon that realization. This approach seemed rather low in the man's opinion. As effective as it was, Clark couldn't help but feel enraged about it. He got Bruce's point; sure, he shouldn't take out his uncertainties out on Superboy, but he couldn't openly become something for this kid that he wasn't. That would be even worse than just ignoring the clone. He'd be lying to him.
And Superman wasn't a liar.
Or a father.
"Bruce," Clark interrupted. The out of costumed vigilante paused in his conversation with Dick, nodding for the boy to get them some of those, as Dick put it, 'amazingly sweet cheese cake cubes', while him and Clark resumed their grievous talk from earlier. Clark saw Dick out of the corner of his eye spinning around, his hues looking back and forth at the pair before retreating towards the refreshment stand. Seeing the uncertainty that lingered in Dick's eyes made Clark uncomfortable.
Did Dick know what they were discussing?
"He's worried about him," Bruce abruptly brought up. He only turned back to Clark once he saw Dick's tiny form vanish between a swarm of colorful dresses and fancy suits. "It's why I wanted to talk."
Clark raised a brow behind his spectacles. "Worried about, Superboy?" Clark couldn't help but feel dumbfounded. "Why?"
"You're not the only one adjusting to this discovery." Bruce exhaled sharply and Clark could feel how important this conversation, how this clone, was becoming for Bruce. "Look, as much as I'd like to know how the boy came to be, there's no point in punishing him for our insecurities. He's here now, he's going to be here for a while; there's no point in denying that anymore."
"I'm not denying the fact that he's here. It's just—"
Bruce's hollow voice cut off his teammate, his dark eyes taking into staring absentmindedly of towards the golden floral wallpaper. "When I first found out that someone else had lost their parents like I had, I felt angry. I felt like I hadn't done what I sought out to do, that fate was mocking me."
Clark held himself back from speaking as he listened to Bruce. "I failed from my ultimate goal of making this city a safer place. When I saw Dick that night running over towards the crumpled bodies of his mother and father, I've never felt such strong emotions surge through me. 'It wasn't fair,' I kept repeating to myself that night. 'It wasn't supposed to happen to anyone else.'
"I admit, I was surprised at my own actions in volunteering to watch over him until his parents' killer had been caught. I felt I owed him that much. A safe haven. But I wasn't very good at comforting people. People had always come to comfort me." Bruce's calm voice carried a hushed sadness laced in a few words every now and then. Clark, slightly surprised at his friend, watched him seem to swallow an invisible pill as he continued speaking. "I wasn't good at accepting defeat either. Every time I saw Dick, I could only think of my own failures. I kept thinking over and over again that I had let my parents down, let the Graysons down, let Dick down... simply looking at him made years of training seem worthless. I wasn't equipped to deal with these sorts of things. So, I ignored them, and in a direct following, I ended up ignoring Dick. I told myself it was better this way. I'd find him a real home once I caught Zucco, there was no point in getting close to him. It'd make the separation more difficult.
"It wasn't until Dick did something irrational that I realized that my own self pity and inquires hadn't help one bit. He had run off. And it was in that moment that I felt true fear. I remember where I was at that exact moment that Alfred called me. I'll never forget that feeling," Bruce seemed to embrace the memory, his lips twitching slightly. "My own selfish actions could have gotten him killed, Clark. If I hadn't had gotten there in time—"
"But you did," Clark squeezed in, uneasy with how close Bruce's recollection of Dick's past seemed to be fitting his and Superboy's.
Bruce's eyes looked over the Kryptonian with a warning gaze. "If I hadn't, he'd be buried right there next to his parents," the billionaire added icily. Clark felt a small ball of sympathy blossom for Bruce at the moment. He could tell his friend still carried guilt for his early actions towards his ward. He could tell Bruce hated those moments, but he had still learned from them.
"The point being," Bruce was still speaking to Clark, but his eyes had darted off towards the right, scanning over the crowd to see if Dick was near by. "The longer you put off speaking to the boy, the worse you'll end up making this. The more you'll regret it if something does happen. Clark, I never saw myself as a father. I still don't. But to Dick... I am his father. Dick knows I'm always there for him, knows he can always talk to me. You need to give Superboy the same offer. He needs the—"
"You're asking me to do something—"
"Something you can't?" Bruce crossed his arms. The Batman-like aura certainly was pouring through his expensive suit. "I'm not asking anymore, I'm telling. It's not a matter of question. The boy needs guidance. Your guidance."
"He has Red. He has you."
"Yes, he does. But," Bruce's cold eyes locked onto Clark's, his voice in a low growl: "That's not who he wants."
Clark curled his fingers into angry fists, glaring back up at Bruce as if he was being punished. "You said it yourself, he could be a weapon! Someone designed to get close to me to destroy me, the League, or even something more! How can I sit down and talk with him with those worries and doubts? How can I lie to him? If he found out I was leading him on, he'll loathe me even more!"
Bruce frowned. "Which is why it's important you gain his trust or friendship. It's important that he has someone he can turn to if that happens to be his true intent. Who better than the man he was inspired after? You may not know, but these kids, not just Superboy, idolize the way you—"
Clark sighed in frustration. "I can't put either of us through that, Bruce. It's better this way."
The playboy looked as if he wanted to argue, but at that moment, his young charge came beaming through the crowd holding a large plate filled with neatly baked squares of cheese cake. Clark saw the opening as an opportunity to cease the current topic and speak with Dick to avoid Bruce's barrage of emotional turmoil. He certainly knew how to make the Man of Steel uneasy.
"I didn't interrupt your date, did I?" the out of costumed Boy Wonder grinned deviously holding up the plate of desserts for the two older men to try. "You both look ready for a fight. Please tell me the Joker or Harley Quinn or someone got lose so I can ditch this tie."
"No such luck," Bruce replied casually, picking up one the tiny desserts. Clark repeated the billionaire's motion, and surprisingly, found himself reaching for another one quickly after his first. They were good...
Dick beamed watching the two indulge on a few more. "Told you. They're awesome. Is there anything Alfred can't cook?" Dick asked with a grin. Bruce gave a half smile, his focus on his ward. Clark watched him look over Dick with a certain gleam before flickering his hues towards Clark. The reporter instantly felt a burning sting near his heart.
If he didn't know that Bruce was human, he could have sworn that Batman had some sort of powerful and supernatural gaze that made people relive painful emotions. Nervously, Clark grabbed at his tie, loosening it slightly. "Well, I... better get some real interviews so Perry doesn't think I just came to eat all of Alfred's cheese cake."
He gave Dick a small good-bye nod, his gaze turning up to meet Bruce's hesitantly. There was an awkward sense of responsibilities placed between the two, Bruce staring down Clark like a lion would his prey. Finally, the Man of Steel broke the current of uneasiness, waving good by at the father and son before hastily blending into the crowd.
Silently, Bruce continued to watch the alien until the teenager at his side regained his attention.
"So, how'd the talk go?" Dick inquired the taller man. Upon receiving no answer, Dick frowned and tried again, realizing that something must have gone wrong. "Bruce, what's wrong?" the acrobat asked with a wince as he observed his mentor.
Bruce said nothing at first, his arms wrapping around Dick and pulling him into a solemn and very light embrace as he watched the Kryptonian trail off into the crowd. Dick, though slightly confused, returned the gesture, his small arms barley wrapping around Bruce's sturdy frame. "You okay?" the boy asked. "What'd he say?"
"If you ever need anything Dick, please, don't hesitate to ask."
Dick gave a light chuckle, his face curving into a little smile. "I know, Bruce. You've always told me that."
Bending down to be eye level with Dick, Bruce brought his hands up to rest firmly on the youth's shoulders. His hands, strong and feared in Gotham's underbelly, were as delicate as ever, squeezing his ward slightly and giving a small, almost hard to see smile. Dick looked back confident that this was Bruce's silent way of saying 'I love you' but made no say to repeat those thoughts. He smiled back up at his mentor, his head twisting over his shoulder catching glance of Clark interviewing one of Gotham's Elite, Veronica Vreeland.
"So, do you think he'll talk to, Superboy?" Dick inquired watching Bruce slowly stand up tall. The billionaire gave no answer at first, confirming Dick's suspicions that the conversation hadn't been as effective as Bruce originally wanted. Sighing, the youth voiced his opinion. "And he thinks Superboy is the kid here... tch."
Bruce only nodded in agreement with his ward.
There was silence between the duo for a while, Bruce's intent gaze locked onto Clark. Dick, with crossed arms, suddenly broke through with an idea as he watched his mentor brood over his loss. "Maybe I could talk to him." Instantly, the older man raised a brow towards the younger. Dick encouraged his idea.
"No really, maybe I could get him to realize that what he's doing is... wrong. He's Superman. He shouldn't be acting like this. I mean, Wally has a better sense of right and wrong at this point then he does," Dick added with a snicker.
"Well, there's still one more call we can make," Bruce began slowly, the gears in his mind turning.
At the sudden idea of someone more powerful than Batman making the Boy Scout himself squirm under their gaze, the out of costumed Boy Wonder grew excited. "Really?" Dick asked, confused as to who could get Superman guilty enough to realize how pig headed and stubborn he was being. "To who? Lois, maybe?" he catechized devilishly, his crooked grin covering most of his face.
The World's Greatest Detective only responded with two words as he headed back into the glistening sea of expensive suits and gowns motioning for his young charge to follow, a slightly smirk crawling up his face as he did so: "His mother."
With one of his classic cackles, that could only be heard by Bruce, the teenager tilted his bright hues towards the Man of Steel who unexpectedly continued his droll interviews. "Oh, totally busted!"
Author's Note: Yea, I went there. I needed more closure on the whole Bruce/Clark discussing Superboy thing. Batman is way too stubborn to not keep poking and prodding at Superman to grow up about this situation. As for bringing in Mrs. Kent herself, well, I didn't want this to be a one shot, and if there's one person besides Batman that's as good as nagging at Superman, it'd have to be his mother. I have several little plot bunnies for this story now, so, drop a review and tell me what you'd think! Especially if you favorite it: tell me why, I'd love to hear it!