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Bruce is under no false pretense that he and Clark Kent are not the conventional definition of friends. They're something like that, a partnership forged in death and destruction and guilt, held together by the thin spindles of something that might be care. The more orthodox perspective might simply call them enemies;


But sat side by side in one of Bruce's many penthouses, watching the flickering of a fire, Batman and Superman are friends. The closest thing either of them have to one, at least.


It's in these moments, when Clark talks about his mother and Lois and the farm he's slowly rebuilding, does Bruce imagine if there was ever a way either of them could overcome the crater of uncertainty between them. Neither of them wants to acknowledge it, and so they're left teetering across the edge, and all it takes is one misstep for someone to slip and fall back into the void.


Bruce wishes that saving the world together would solve their issues, but he doesn't think he'll ever get over Clark's death. Not in the same way the others will.


And yet, the two have been sitting next to each other for almost three hours, simply talking and existing. It's a rare treat, an evening spent talking about the usual civilian topics with Bruce Wayne, and letting Clark Kent sit in his seat without having to fly off to save the world every ten minutes. There's a storm cloud that floats above them, stagnet in its temperament — so it's difficult to relax completely. Bruce struggles to keep the conversation away from Justice League talk, and Clark grips the arm of his chair, looking like he might jump straight through the ceiling.


Bruce stares at the fireplace that burns in front of them, letting the ghost of a smile from Clark's earlier conversation mingle with the warm flames.


It's only natural that they went this long without wanting to dive into the void, so Bruce isn't all that surprised when Clark is the one to finally put an end to their serene demeanour.


"Before," Clark asks, a glass of whiskey that has absolutely no effect on him whatsoever held loosely in his hands, "Why did you hate me?"


Bruce raises a brow. Unlike Superman, the glass of whiskey in his hands does affect him, especially since this is his third one, "Other than the fact that you were a suspicious alien who showed up out of nowhere and was basically invincible?"


They've been 'friends' long enough that Clark hardly seems perturbed by Bruce's words, rolling his eyes with a smile as he replies, "Yes, besides the whole alien thing. You didn't have a problem with other heroes who weren't exactly human."


There's a brief moment where all of Bruce's self-preservation instincts grind to a halt at the back of his throat, grabbing his tongue in an attempt to stop him. Bruce has an answer to Clark's question, which is a question he's asked himself countless times before, but the answer is not one that he can come back from. The answer is poison, and if Bruce releases it into the air, it's only a matter of time before it kills them both.


Even after all these years, Bruce still has not found an antidote to tackle this poison that he harbours so deeply inside of him.


"Well," Bruce hums, downing the rest of the glass in one sweep for an ounce of courage, "You killed my children."


There's silence as Bruce reaches down to the small metal tray on the stool between the two of them, and pours himself another generous glass. The whiskey is one of the old ones, a brown glass bottle with a thick metal head sort of old, older than Bruce and his father combined (which isn't very old, all things considered).


Bruce knows what it is he's said, he can feel it thrumming under his skin, bursting his blood vessels in painful pop pop pops. A rhythmic punishment fit for his crimes.


He's almost finished his fourth glass when Clark finally speaks, "What?"


He sounds furious. Bruce wants to laugh, but he thinks he might cry first.


"I had three you know, all boys," Bruce clears his throat when the alcohol settles painfully in his chest, "Christ, this whiskey is strong." He mumbles, "You're really missing out, Kent."


"Bruce, what?" Clark repeats with urgency. Bruce partly wants Clark to drop the topic, brush it off as some drunken mishap of words that don't really mean anything — while a larger part of him wants to repeat it. He wants to say it, over and over again, sear it into Clark's skin the way it's burned into his own.


You killed my children. My innocent boys. Dead. You're at fault. It's always your fault.


Sometime over the last couple years, who exactly this 'you' is has become almost unrecognisable. It's a strange beast, an amalgamation that tastes like fire and fallen debris, sounds like police sirens and screaming children, smells like Clark Kent — Superman.


And it looks like Bruce Wayne.


"The attack, with Zod," Bruce manages to grumble out, staring absently into his cup, just about able to make out the indents in the glass at the bottom, "My children were there. Both of them, in a Metropolis, during the fucking alien invasion."


Bruce doesn't need to look at Clark to imagine the horror that fills his face. Is he crying? Does he even care? (He does, Superman's problem is that he cares too much, and Batman cares too late.)


"Richard Grayson Wayne. My eldest," Bruce snorts, though nothing is funny, not anymore, taking another gulp of whiskey and letting it burn down his throat, "Liked everyone calling him Dick. Dickie. His father was old fashioned like that. I adopted him when he was eight."


"God," Clark breathes, like he doesn't quite believe him, but Bruce doesn't care. Like he said, he cares too late. He doesn't care if he's hurting Clark by telling him all of this. Not yet.


"And then there's Tim. Timothy Wayne. He dropped his last name entirely and took mine, can you believe that? Said it was more powerful, gave him a place in the world. He had big dreams, that kid, a real genius. I adopted him when he was fifteen." Bruce goes to take another burning gulp of his drink, but he's somehow finished it without even realising. Without thinking, he turns to fill it up again. He needs another drink.


But when he tries to grab the bottle, hands uncharacteristically shaky, either from the sound of crashing buildings in his ears or the alcohol poisoning his blood, Clark has his hand over the top of the bottle. Bruce glares at it for a moment, as if pure spite and hatred will remove it from existence, but it remains unchanged.


Bruce finally spares a scalding look up at Clark, "Move your hand."


"How old were they?" Clark's voice is so small, and it's sort of funny, such a small and helpless voice coming from the mountain of a man who could kill Bruce right at this moment, and it wouldn't even matter. Bruce wouldn't even care. Not right now.


"Does it fucking matter? They're dead." Bruce spits, and he watches as Clark flinches. It's for theatrics of course, the principle of the matter. Superman doesn't flinch.


"Please," Clark asks, even smaller, "How old were they?"


"Twenty one and Seventeen. Tim was turning eighteen in a couple weeks. We had started planning his gala already, and he hated it. Just wanted to do something small, with friends and family," Bruce smiles, still looking at Clark, but he can't see him at all. His vision is unfocused and blurry, and Bruce thinks he can see a vaguely Tim shaped blob in the corner of his eyes, smirking at him. Which is silly. Tim was a boy, seventeen years old with straight black hair and bright blue eyes, not a little blob.


"Bruce…" Clark whispers. Bruce ignores him.


"Tim still lived with me, but he wanted to move out for college. That's why they were there that day, apartment hunting. I told them no, that Tim could move out after his first year." Bruce laughs, but it's bitter, and he gives up all hope of getting another drink as he slumps back into his seat with an empty cup, "That only encouraged them more. I couldn't stop my boys once they put their minds to something, stubborn things. So they went, I was in a meeting, everything was fine. They were safe. "


He turns to Clark, eyes wide, "And then they died. Someone dropped a fucking building on them. Are you satisfied? Did you like that story? Want me to tell you again?"


"I'm —" Clark looks so lost, so devastated, opening and closing his mouth like he's desperately trying to take in oxygen he doesn't need, "Bruce, I'm —"


Bruce throws the glass before he can stop himself, and it's shattering reverberates around the room, and it sounds like windows of the buildings breaking as they fell towards the ground, crushing people, crushing children, "Don't you dare fucking apologise. Don't you fucking dare."


"Okay." Clark whispers, staring right into Bruce's eyes with his hands up, as if he's trying not to spook a wild animal, "Okay."


Bruce sighs, every drop of the alcohol in him pulled to the surface, and all of a sudden he realises he's far too sober for this conversation. He can feel everything, every painful inhale and exhale of his lungs, the tightness of his chest. He can smell that stupid cheap cologne Clark wears, and the whiskey droplets on the floor. Alfred's going to kill him, that was his favourite set of cups.


"I'm sorry," Bruce grunts, dropping his head into his hands.


Clark inhales sharply, "Please don't ever apologise to me again. I don't think I can handle it."


"You've got a bleeding heart, Superman," Bruce scoffs, his head pounding, "My kids would've eaten you alive."


There he goes again, bringing them up for no reason. He hadn't spoken about them in months. Maybe even years, aside from the visit to their graves, or the night's standing in front of a glass case with an old uniform.


"You said you had three," Clark whispers, somehow reading Bruce's mind. He sounds like he doesn't quite want to hear the answer. Bruce doesn't really want to tell him either.


But he does, it's only fair. Wherever Jason is, he'd throw a fit if Bruce spoke about Dick and not him as well. He hopes the three of them are looking out for each other, and he hopes Tim and Jason are getting along, having never met. He hopes Dick doesn't blame himself too much, carrying the burden of trauma too many years older than him.


"Jason Todd Wayne, my second. A real firecracker. First time we met he tried to hit me with a tire wrench — and that was after he tried to steal my tires." Bruce says with a laugh, unable to stop himself. Clark lets out an amused sort of hum, though it lacks its usual warmth, and this just makes Bruce laughs a little more. Jason always made people smile, even after he was gone, "I adopted him when he was twelve."


He doesn't let Clark enjoy the mood for too long, he hasn't earned the right, "He died a couple years earlier, he was fifteen," Bruce says quietly into his palm, knowing Clark, who's gone rigid, could still hear him clearly, "He was kidnapped, and then tortured, and then blown up when I was trying to get to him."


That must've been the breaking point for Clark, who's three parts hero and one part person, as he drops his half drunk glass of whiskey onto the tray with a messy clatter. He rubs his hands over his face harshly, like it would scrub away the remnants of a drunken conversation about dead children. None of which died peacefully.


He wonders if Dick and Tim had died screaming, like Jason, their bones crushed by cement and beaten with metal. Or if they'd accepted it, died quietly as they were crushed beneath the rubble, letting life's clock run past their eyes until it hits zero, like Jason, listening to the ticking of a bomb. Bruce wonders, hopes, that they had died immediately, painless and quick — unlike Jason, choking on the smoke that filled his lungs.


"Bruce I'm so — I'm — fuck ," Clark breathes wetly, and Bruce blinks up from his hands, staring at the man in wonder, "How do you — how could you —?"


"What? Spit it out." Bruce grumbles in annoyance. Clark is a bumbling mess, and to Bruce's growing mortification and frustration, he realises Clark is crying. What an imbecile. What is he crying for?


Bruce pretends he can't feel the silent streams of water falling down his own face as he continues to glare at Clark. At least Bruce has an excuse, he's drunk. Clark can't get drunk. He's crying simply because he can.


Because he cares.


"How can you even stand to be near me? All your children — your children!" He repeats it like he can't quite grasp the concept of Bruce having children, or he's trying to rub salt into the wound that Bruce doesn't have them anymore, "And you don't — how can you not hate me?"


Bruce stares at Clark as the man continues to cry pathetically.


"Are you capable of feeling hatred, Clark?" Bruce asks.


Clark, who's clearly unprepared for such a philosophical conversation in the midst of his nervous breakdown, coughs, "I — yes. Yes of course."


"Do you hate me?" Bruce asks.


"No," Clark quickly admonishes, but then, like a black-haired blue-eyed child caught red-handed trying to sneak into the Batcave past his bedtime, Clark recoils, looking incredibly guilty, "Well, not anymore."


"I helped kill you." Bruce states, as if that would change anything.


"And I helped kill your children." Clark retaliates with a sudden bite, like he wants Bruce to hate him, and then he catches himself, looking horrified at what's come out of his mouth, "Oh."


There's a mutual, unspoken understanding here. A misplaced sense of vengeance, of justice. The inevitability of it all is sickening, and Bruce thinks he and Clark are more alike than either are willing to admit, something dark and cruel festering in them both. But it's this shared flaw that makes it easier to forgive, Bruce supposes. To move on.


Clark throws his head back against the armchair, squeezing his eyes shut as more tears escape through the corners of his eyes, "God I'm being selfish. You just told me about your kids and now I'm here —"


"You're asking the wrong question." Bruce cuts him off.


Clark sniffs disgustingly, tear marks all over the neck of his grey t-shirt, "What?"


"You know I don't hate you anymore," I don't blame you, not anymore, not after what I did to you, after what you did for the world, for me, "So ask me why."


"Why don't you… hate me anymore?" Clark asks, but it sounds like a question within a question, every syllable stressed and worried.


Bruce sighs, preparing himself. He's never said this outloud before, never thought about it outside the confines of his lead lined bedroom, suffocating under his blankets and pillows that hold the phantom weight of children wanting comfort after a nightmare;


"Before I adopted Dick, he worked in the circus with his parents. The Flying Graysons, a trapeze act, the best in the world." Bruce smiled at the memory of Dick hanging upside from the chandelier, and the terror that coursed through Bruce's body when the boy's grip slipped and he came hurtling down to earth. Bruce had thrown himself onto the ground, caught Dick, and rolled far enough until he hit the wall, knocking over a portrait of his mother.


Dick had cried for so long afterwards that Bruce thought he'd never stop, babbling and whining in a language Bruce hadn't learnt yet. His nails dug into Bruce's arm, almost like he'd slip away and go crashing down into the abyss if he let go. Bruce held on just as tightly, even if his body hurt and his head was spinning. Dick smelt like baby shampoo and crayons, sweat and fear and he was small. He was so small.


Bruce then remembers holding Dick's limp body in the ambulance. He had grown into a proud young man, but even then, blood smearing his face and perfect blue eyes closed, Bruce remembers thinking how small his son is. He remembers trying to gather Tim into his arms as well, chest aching and ripping itself to shreds when he realised that no matter how much he pretended, Bruce Wayne could not hold both his children in his arms. He could not save them.


(He couldn't save Jason either. Unlike Dick and Tim, Jason's body had been warm when cradled lifelessly in his arms. A reminder that if Bruce had been a little faster, if he had made it on time — then he could have saved Jason too.)


Bruce doesn't tell this story to Clark, and Clark doesn't try to talk to him during the silence that Bruce reminisces about holding his sons. He doesn't tell Clark about what happened to Dick's parents either, it's not his story to tell, not in this context, "His mother called him her little Robin. He loved birds. And bats. Anything that flew. You know when kids asked those silly questions to fill the silence, like Dickie, if you could have any power in the world, what would it be? "


Clark nods, absently, tears no longer streaming down his face but the lines around his mouth suggests he might be set off again.


Bruce smiles, amused by just about anything, the buzzing of alcohol returned to his veins as the adrenaline fades, "He would always say he wanted to fly. Soar in the clouds, fly to school and drop me off at work on the way there. Fly to the top of trees and sit there with all the other little robins. He said he'd fly and save people from — from falling buildings and fires."


"Oh." Clark wonders out loud, "He sounds lovely."


He was, he was lovely and he was always more, "Dick would have loved you. You're basically everything he wanted to be when he grew up. He would have probably loved your ridiculous costume as well."


Clark grins a little, eyes shining, as he shifts to sit up in his seat, "What's wrong with my costume?"


"A bright red cape is not practical, Clark," Bruce sighs, and Clark's smile brightens.


"Tim," the man says, and Bruce watches at the way his son's name leaves Clark's mouth, like it was precious, a secret, "What about Tim?"


"Tim probably would have wanted to lock you up in a lab. Run tests on you. Try to find a way to steal your powers and give them to his brother as a birthday gift," Bruce doesn't even know what he's saying. That sentence both sounds completely out of character for Tim, while also exactly something he might have attempted, "You wouldn't have stood a chance. That kid was an evil genius in the making. He was marvellous."


"Takes after his dad," Clark says, and the genuinity in his voice is enough to make Bruce's eyes burn again.


"He was better than me, they all were," Bruce lets out a shaky exhale, looking away from Clark and then down to the shattered remains of his whiskey cup, "They had their whole lives ahead of them. After — after Jason died, before he even turned sixteen, I promised myself that Dick and Tim would be okay. I would have given them the world. Tim was going to go to college, and Dick was almost done with the Police Academy. And then they —"


Bruce stutters out a breath, picking himself up and crouching down in front of his seat, reaching out to pick up the shattered glass cup. If he leaves it out, one of the kids might step on it. Tim was always so clumsy.


Before he can try however, Clark is suddenly kneeling beside him, holding Bruce's wrists. It's not a harsh hold, barely any of Clark's strength is being used, and so it's one that suggests Bruce could easily pull himself away. But he doesn't, he just freezes, sat staring at broken glass as Superman holds his hands away from clearing it up.


"Tell me about Jason." Clark asks.


"He was my baby," Bruce whispers, his voice giving out halfway through and becoming barely audible, "He was mine. And then I lost him. He used to swear like a trucker, so angry at the word. His emotions were too big for him sometimes, and he'd cry and hide and slam doors — but Jason was the sweetest boy. He'd only ever wanted to help people. Always giving away more love than he received."


Bruce is sitting back, leaning against the chair but still on the floor. Clark's picking up the broken glass, and Bruce watches as the glass doesn't leave a single scratch on his perfect skin. But now Bruce knows that Clark bleeds, he'd made Clark bleed, so Bruce watches in unnecessary worry.


"He loved reading and school, Dick used to make fun of him for it all the time," Bruce chuckles at that, memories of helping Jason do maths homework before patrol, back when he'd first become Robin and Dick was figuring out if he wanted to be a vigilante or a detective, or something else entirely, "He wanted to —"


Something tugs at Bruce's chest, and he blinks. Clark's collected all the glass, even the small, barely perceptible dust fragments, and he's piled it all on the tray. But he stills, waiting as Bruce wallows in the silence of a late revelation.


"My children are dead," Bruce breathes, like he's saying it for the first time.


It must occur to Clark that this is the first time Bruce is saying it in such a way, and he reaches over to hold one of Bruce's hands in both of his, "I'm sorry."


Bruce lets him say it, just this once. Because he's not apologising out of guilt, or responsibility —


He's saying it as a friend, of some sort. Clark Kent, not Superman.


"My children are dead." Bruce repeats it once more, so it sticks to the folds of the universe.


Clark doesn't apologise a second time, and Bruce is glad.


They sit in silence for what feels like another hour, before Alfred comes in to tell them dinner is ready, not pointing out the broken glass that lays abandoned on the silver tray, or the two men holding hands and sitting on the floor. The fire continues to crackle infront of them, giggling and jumping around like little boys who flew into the sun.


Clark calls him, on his phone and not the justice league communicators, asking if he can come over. Like they're friends from school, eager to continue playing pretend in the comfort of their childhood homes. Bruce lets him, because the last time they spoke, Bruce was drunk and blamed him for killing his children.


"I visited them," Clark breathes the moment he steps down into the cave, and Alfred immediately turns on his heel and briskly walks away.


Somehow, Bruce expected this.


Clark smells like lilies. Bruce was right for not getting new flowers put on the graves this morning like he usually would. Jason loved lilies, though, he'd like whatever flowers Clark had brought for his grave. Bruce hopes he got something bright for Dick, and something kind for Tim. Sunflowers and daisys, perhaps.


Bruce doesn't reply, but he nods. They're just staring at each other. Clark is pretending he can't hear Bruce's heart beating out of his chest, and Bruce pretends that he can't see Clark's damp and sticky cheeks, eyes glossy.


"Jason, his body," Clark then prompts into the silence, wiping a hand absently across his face.


Bruce doesn't look at the glass case in the corner of the cave, he doesn't, "Buried next to his brothers. Opposite my mother."


"No," Clark looks sick, almost green, which is something Bruce didn't think was possible, "No. His body, where —"


"What Clark? What about his body?" Bruce finally cries out in frustration, because he's tired. He doesn't want to talk about his dead children or imagine the mangled and beaten corpse of his second son, clothes and skin burnt and eyes wide, scared till the moment he died. All alone, thinking Bruce would never come for him.


Clark's crying again, "His grave is empty, Bruce. Why is it empty?"


Bruce never thought he'd ever think about wanting to kill Superman ever again, not after everything. But at that moment, for one brief second, Bruce imagines himself ripping the man to pieces.


"Stop it, Clark," Bruce bites, his fists curled so tightly his nails dig into his palm painfully, "I watched them bury him."


Something shines in Clark's eyes, almost like realisation, "Bruce there's no body in there. And — and the coffin —"


"I watched them close his casket and bury him. Please stop." Bruce is practically begging.


Clark senses it, that Bruce's heart is about to explode, or he's just not as stupid as he acts sometimes, because he steps closer to Bruce, "Believe me. Cemeteries are — are hard for me. The smell of the bodies, the sounds of the bugs, it's hard to block out but — but Jason's grave wasn't like the others."


Bruce's skin crawls at the indirect mention of the rest of his family's rotting bodies. Bruce thinks he's going to throw up. His sweet, sweet boys.


But, if what Clark is saying is true, then;


Clark looks like he's drowning, breaking the surface and gasping for air, trying to grab hold of something to pull him out the water, "I checked with my x-ray vision."


Bruce's blood runs cold, "You what —"


"I'm sorry! But I checked and Bruce I — his body isn't there. And it — it was broken out of. The soil was replaced, but the coffin was broken from the inside, Jason got out. There's no other way to explain. Nothing else makes sense."


"How does my dead son digging out of his grave make sense to you?" Bruce shouts, voice ripping from his throat. There's a burning in his throat, but it's not whiskey, it's bile. He's going to be sick.


"Bruce, I swear, please," Clark is begging him, Superman is begging him to believe his insane lie, "I would never do this to you. I don't know what to do. Bruce, please."


Bruce is not a weak man. He's not. He's never had the pleasure of being weak, in any manner of speaking. There was no time. He'd had a company to look after, and then a legacy, a city, children — Bruce Wayne was not a man who could ever, under any circumstances, be allowed to be weak.


"No," Bruce breathes, furious, "No…" he repeats, softer.


Bruce Wayne is not weak. He hasn't cried with any real sound since the day he found Dick and Tim's body's buried in the rubble. Hasn't screamed since he cradled Jason's body to his chest, fire and smoke invading his lungs, hoping it would kill him too.


Clark looks desperate and he reaches out to touch Bruce, to hold his hand again, "Please believe me. Jason dug out. "


Bruce crumbles to the ground, pulling Clark down with him, his knees hitting the asphalt hard — and he weeps.