Disclaimer: I don't own Batman, Superman, Justice League or its characters.
Chapter 2: The Talk.
It took them only a couple of minutes to reach the diner nestled between a small used bookstore and a coffee shop, the walk there silent but not uncomfortably so.
Clark couldn't stop his eyes from wandering to the man at his side, watching his face for any reaction. The tailored suit was worth more than Clark's monthly salary and the ease with which it was worn told him Bruce wasn't strange to wasting a small fortune in his wardrobe. So, this was definitely not the kind of place someone like him would visit.
The expression on Bruce's face wasn't particularly easy to read, but the best guess he had was curious, so Clark relaxed a little.
The diner was old, with its linoleum floors, worn-out red vinyl booths, and chrome tables- the one they were sitting on had a little stain of dry ketchup on one corner. Clark was on his way to becoming a regular here, coming whenever he had the chance, sometimes with Lois and Jimmy or some other people from the Planet.
"This is strange," Bruce mused out loud as the waitress walked away with their order.
"I was just thinking how strange it is to be here about to have lunch and talk about my children with someone I just met."
"Oh." Clark blinked. He couldn't blame him for feeling apprehensive about this now that he had more time to think about it. "We don't have to do this if you don't feel comfortable. We can talk about something else."
Bruce seemed to ponder that for a moment, his sharp blue eyes never leaving his face. "Thank you, but I think I need to. It might be good to have an outside perspective."
Any comment Clark could have made was interrupted by the waitress's return as she placed a pair of ceramic white cups on the table, leaving with the promise of returning soon with their food.
"You don't have kids, do you?" Bruce asked before he could say anything, and then took a sip of his black coffee.
"I don't. What gave it away?" Clark looked up from where he had been stirring the cream and sugar he added to his own cup.
"People with kids usually aren't very interested in hearing other parents' complains when they have enough themselves. At least not without adding their own," Bruce added dryly.
"I guess that's true. I can remember my mother complaining to her friends about me and hear them doing the same about their kids."
Bruce hummed softly before bringing the cup to his lips again.
Clark took a sip of his coffee as well in the silence that followed. Bruce didn't seem particularly interested in starting the conversation, so he would need to prompt him a little. They didn't have a lot of time after all.
"You have four, right?" He got a nod in response. "How old are they?"
"The oldest is seventeen and the youngest seven. I can show you a photo," He was watching him expectantly, so Clark nodded dutifully.
Bruce pulled the phone out of his breast pocket and moved his fingers over the screen for a moment. A smile tugged the corner of his lips just before sliding the phone across the table.
Clark looked down at the photo. The first thibng he saw was the bright smile on the older teen's face as he hugged one-armed a tiny kid with large green eyes and a frown on his face. That same boy was eyeing the slightly older kid at his other side. That other kid with blue eyes framed by a pair of glasses was smiling shyly at the camera while a taller one had an arm thrown loosely over his shoulders, a crooked smirk and mischievous blue eyes under shaggy bangs.
"Like I said, the oldest is seventeen. His name is Dick. Then there's Jason, he's fifteen. Tim is ten and Damian seven."
"They seem like good kids." He commented, handing the phone back and watching the other man look down at the screen with a gentle expression on his face.
"They are. For the most part, anyway."
The food arrived a second later, and Clark couldn't help but feel a little pride when he saw the appreciative look on Bruce's face after the first bite. He knew the place wasn't much to look at, but the food was delicious and the owner was a nice woman too.
It took only a little prodding to get Bruce talking while they eat, and Clark was surprised not by what he said, but by the way he said it. He seemed to have a way with words, giving as few details as possible but being clear and concise. He painted a very vivid picture of his kids.
Bruce talked about the growing number of fights he had with his two eldest sons, which ended with shouting matches with Dick and curses and insults (and sometimes even objects) being thrown by Jason. Then there was the animosity between the younger kids, started by Damian. They couldn't be left alone for two minutes because things ended in tears, blows, or both.
Clark listened attentively to every word, and it wasn't until Bruce fell silent than he dared to speak.
"I don't know if you're looking for advice, and even if you are I'm not sure you should take it from someone without children." Clark flashed him a sheepish grin. "But it sounds to me like Dick and Jason are just being teenagers."
"Alfred told me the same thing. He's my- He's like a father to me." Bruce explained.
"And yet you don't believe him."
"It's not that I don't believe him, I just ..." He trailed off, unsure how to continue.
'You think it's your fault.' Clark thought but didn't dare say it. He watched him for a moment, thinking. "Well, I don't think you can force them to act differently, teenagers can be stubborn like that, but you can work on your own behavior. And I'm not saying that what you're doing is wrong because I don't know that, but maybe you could try to react better."
Bruce looked doubtful, and maybe a little annoyed. "And how should I do that exactly?"
The words were icy, but not outright hostile, so Clark pondered it for a moment.
"You could make an effort to listen to what they have to say." The other man opened his mouth to speak, but Clark raised his palms. "Again, I'm not saying you don't do that already, just, you know. Throwing out ideas here."
He watched him with narrowed eyes before giving him a tiny nod.
"I think that hearing them out and then proceeding to explain why they're wrong or why they can't do something would have a better effect that shutting them down right away or shouting back at them. You're the adult here and they're the kids. It's your job to keep a cold head and not get carried away, no matter what they say. Teenagers are bound to say things they don't mean."
Bruce averted his eyes, leading Clark to think there had been some harsh words exchanged recently.
"You could also let them get away with a few things sometimes. Nothing big or dangerous," He added right way. "But little things that make them feel that you're willing to meet them halfway if they're good kids."
"Are you sure you don't have kids?"
He chuckled. "Pretty sure, yeah. But what I do have is a wonderful Mom and years of hearing her give advice to other moms."
Bruce lowered his eyes, fingers playing with his refilled cup of coffee.
Clark had no idea what prompted that reaction, but before he could ask if he was okay the other man looked up and started speaking.
"I know they're good kids, and most of the time I feel like I can't be doing everything wrong when I see how healthy and well-adjusted they are, but sometimes I can't help but wonder if I did the right thing taking them in." Bruce's voice was soft, almost a whisper as he gave voice to his fears. "If it wouldn't be better for them to be with a normal family that can give them the stability and support I can't."
"They are. All except Damian, though I didn't even know he existed until a few months ago," He added bitterly.
Bruce didn't say anything else and while Clark couldn't deny he was curious, he would never even consider asking for more. Any explanation he could think of as to why he met his seven-year-old son just months ago wasn't pretty, and definitely not something you'd want to share with a stranger.
"What?" He growled.
"Nothing. I just- I was adopted too so it's really good to meet people willing to give kids a chance to have a family again." It may not be what Clark was thinking just now, but it was still true.
Clark offered him a smile over the rim of his cup.
"I don't know if you know this, but you're not the only person struggling with how to be a good parent," He told him, recalling all the overheard conversations in the bus or the checkout line in the supermarket, and the many experts giving advice to desperate parents on TV. "I know that's not particularly helpful, but maybe it should make you consider this isn't just about you doing it all wrong."
Bruce opened his mouth to speak but was interrupted by the ringing of Clark's phone. He gave him an apologetic look as he answered.
"Where the hell are you, Smallville?!" Lois' voice demanded as soon as he picked up.
Clark winced, both by the loud voice in his ear and the time on the clock. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry! Time just got away from me, but I'll be back in a little bit."
He turned to the other man, slipping his phone back in his pocket. "I'm sorry about that. I-"
"Stop. I should be the one apologizing. You said you could stay twenty minutes and we've been here for almost forty." Bruce signaled for the check. "I hope you wouldn't get in trouble for this."
"I wouldn't. Perry, my boss, is pretty laid-back. And Lois is covering for me. I think."
That gave Bruce pause. "Lois. You are not speaking of the famous Lois Lane, are you."
"I am, actually. Are you a fan?"
"Of course. That woman is a force to be reckoned with. Her article last month about the migration crisis was a masterpiece." Bruce paused as the waitress came back with the check, thanking her. "So you're working with her."
"Something like that," Clark grinned. It was always great to meet people who appreciate the wonder that was Lois Lane. "I don't have the experience to truly work with her yet, but I'm learning."
"Hmm." Bruce turned back to him after he paid the check. "Can I get your number?"
"I asked if I can get your number. You know, in case I need to vent again about my failure as a parent."
"You're not a failure," Clark told him with a frown. He pulled the notebook and pen from his pocket and started writing. "And I will give you my number with the condition that you call even if your kids aren't giving you any troubles."
"I can do that."
Only then Clark handed him the piece of paper. "Good."
Bruce folded it carefully and put it in his pocket before looking up again. "Thank you for doing this. I will think about what you said. Maybe run it by Alfred."
The tone was teasing so Clark smiled. "You should do that. Run it by Alfred, I mean. It sounds like he actually knows what he's doing."
The answering smile on Bruce's face wasn't just in his lips but reached his eyes, making tiny creases appear at the corners. Jesus! And he had thought Bruce was gorgeous before.
They walked out of the diner together, but neither moved to walk away after the glass doors closed behind them.
"Well, it was nice to meet you, Clark."
He looked down at the hand before taking it, meeting Bruce's eyes. "It was nice to meet you too. And I meant it."
It was Bruce how turned away first with an unreadable expression on his face and a small nod.
Clark watched him for a couple of seconds before remembering he still had a job to get back to. He found himself smiling even as he hurried back to the Planet, dodging people along the way. It wasn't just the satisfaction of helping someone, but the possibility of something more coming out of this chance meeting.
His phone pinged just as he entered the building, and when he pulled it out Clark found a new text from an unknown number.
Unknown [1:56 PM]:
How do you feel about dinner? No family drama included.
He looked down at the phone with a dopey smile.
Clark [1:57 pm]:
I would love to.
a/n: This was suppossed to be just a two-shot because I just can't wtite long things, but my muse decided otherwise so there will be a couple more chapters. We'll find more about Bruce and Clark and their lives in this universe, as well as the Batkids.
Thank you everyone for the comments and kudos, and please do let me know what you think of this new chapter!