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Favorite Strangers

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Dick is on alert the second his key starts to turn in the lock. It’s nothing specific, nothing he could put a name to, but he’s too well trained not to trust the feeling.

He keeps his gun locked at the station, and the escrima sticks are inside the apartment. His hands go instead to a small tazer he keeps on his belt. Modified as it is, it could take down an elephant. Not as elegant as his sticks, but effective.

He unlocks the door and braces himself before he opens it.

“You’ve gotten sloppy,” Bruce says. He’s perched himself on Dick’s couch, illuminated by the street light from the window.

“Jesus, Bruce.” Dick turns on the light, feeling the familiar irritation rise up in him. Four years since they’ve talked, and that’s all Bruce has to say to him. “Have you been in the dark this entire time?”

“Your neighbors might have seen a light.”

Like his neighbors would give two shits. Someone could rob the place blind and leave their name and number with the people across the hall and his neighbors still wouldn’t do a thing.

“Not in this neighborhood.” Dick drops his duffle onto the ground. He can’t imagine why Bruce is here. It can’t be anything urgent. He has his League for that now. It’s not like he’s needed Dick’s help with anything else over the years. Not when dealing with Jason’s loss, or when taking on a god in the streets of Gotham.

Bruce gets to his feet, and Dick is struck by how pale he looks, how drawn. On the news, he’s always looked fine. Strong. But then, that’s always been part of the Bruce Wayne brand, the performance that Bruce has always been so good at.

And then he opens his mouth. “If it’s money you need-”

“I don’t need money,” Dick snaps. “I’m doing fine.”

Bruce eyes an empty pizza box, left on the kitchen counter. “So I see.”

Dick runs his hand through his hair, and takes a deep breath. “Why are you here, Bruce?”

Bruce gets to his feet, and opens his mouth. He closes it again. Dick watches his shoulder roll in the smallest shrug and realizes that Bruce is nervous. “I wanted to,” Bruce stops, and swallows. “I thought—”

Dick takes pity on him. “Do you want some water?”

“Please,” Bruce says, with evident relief. He seems to regret it, however, when Dick goes to fill a glass from the sink. Dick hands it to him anyway, daring him to say anything.

He doesn’t.

For something to do, Dick gets himself a glass as well.

“Is this—is something wrong?” Dick asks.

“No. Not—no.” Bruce looks to the window, the dark alley of Blüdhaven that is Dick’s view, the rusted fire escape. “I came to apologize.”

Dick knows how much those words must cost him, but he can’t help blurting out “ What ?”

Bruce’s shoulders tense, then deliberately relax. When he turns to face Dick again, his face is calm, but his knuckles are white on the glass in his hand. “I’m sorry. For, for everything.”

“For,” Dick laughs, and even to his own ears, it sounds strained. “Jesus, Bruce.”

Bruce doesn’t answer. Dick knows him well enough to know he won’t. He’ll wait for Dick to accept his apology or reject it. If Dick wants to push his luck, Bruce might offer an explanation.

Dick thinks he’s earned a little luck.

“Why now? After years of,” he gestures out the window, indicating the roof across the way where Bruce ‘just stops by’ on patrols. “You have your League now.”

Bruce swallows. “I’ve. I’ve lost a lot, Dick. I’ve missed out on a lot. I don’t want to miss out on anymore.”

Dick can only stare at him, incredulous. From Bruce, it might as well be a weeping declaration. He doesn’t know what to do with it.

Bruce shifts his gaze, takes a sip of the water. “After Jason. I couldn’t handle it. Couldn’t handle much of anything,” he laughs, bitter and sharp. “But. I miss you. And if you’re willing to, to come by the Manor, perhaps on weekends, well. Alfred and I would love to have you.”

Dick can’t think of anything to say, can only stare, mouth agape.

When he’d first left to be Nightwing, he’d imagined Bruce chasing after him. Saying he couldn’t do it alone, that he needed a partner, an equal. That he knew how much Dick had grown, that he wasn’t a kid anymore.

When Jason had died, when Dick had been broken and aching with his loss, he had just wanted to have Bruce there, to grieve with him. But when Bruce had shown no sign of—of anything, Dick had resigned himself to Blüdhaven, to life as Nightwing.

Even with Bruce checking in—spying on—him once a week, he hadn’t thought—hadn’t truly expected—

Bruce mouth twists. “I understand,” he says softly. “I will see myself out, then.”

Dick is still standing by the door, and even Bruce isn’t so dramatic as to throw himself out the window to get away from an emotional confrontation, so Bruce has to cross right by him to get out.

Throat tight with emotion, still unable to think of a single goddamn word to say, Dick catches Bruce’s arm, turns Bruce to face him.

He wouldn’t be able to move Bruce if Bruce didn’t allow it, but Bruce turns. Bruce lets Dick pull him into a hug.

Dick’s childhood dreams of a growth spurt that would put him level with Bruce never came to fruition, and Bruce will always be broader than him. When Bruce’s hands close around him, a hand on the back of his head and the other around his back, it feels just like when he was small. When he had a nightmare, and Bruce would tell him it was alright to cry, but he didn’t need to be scared. When Bruce would give him a hug and everything would feel just a bit better.

“I would love to come for dinner,” Dick says tightly.

Bruce’s arms tighten around him. “I’ll tell Alfred to set an extra place..”

Dick thinks of the kid who’s started to follow him around, who Dick has started to show basic holds and throws to, and almost asks for Bruce to set two.

He decides against it. He should probably ease into that one.

 


 

When Clark comes to, he can feel the sun on his face, and almost nothing else. He’s accustomed to waking up with the sounds of the city in his ears, the feel of blankets rough on his skin, all the familiar touches of having super senses.

Now, he can’t even feel his toes.

It’s a struggle just to open his eyes, but when he manages it, he’s faced with an unfamiliar ceiling, frosted glass and steel beams. He tries to sit up, to turn his head. He can’t.

“Clark?”

It’s his mother’s voice, and he tries to turn towards it, to acknowledge her. She sounds desperate, disbelieving. He wants to help her.

“Clark!” Then she’s there, standing above him. Her hand in on his, and he knows that she must be clutching tight, but he can’t feel it. “Clark, God. Clark.” She bows her head until it touches his chest, and he can hear her sobbing.

It takes a monumental effort just to twitch his fingers under her hand, to give some indication that he can hear her, that he’s okay. She gasps, and cups his face in her hands, peering into his eyes. “Can you hear me?”

He squeeze her hand again, and she pulls back.

“Bruce! Bruce, he’s awake!”

With the sun warm on his face, he can turn his head just enough to keep her in his sight. She has her hands clasped over her mouth, and she’s turned slightly to the door.

He opens his mouth, and for a terrifying second nothing comes out. His tongue is heavy in his mouth, and he can’t seem to form words, can’t do anything.

Then he manages, “Since when does the farm have a greenhouse?”

Or rather, that’s what he intends. It comes out more garbled than that, barely comprehensible.

Ma smiles at him, tears in her eyes. “I couldn’t understand that,” she says, but she still sounds delighted.

“He’s asking about the greenhouse.”

Clark lolls his head over a bit more and sees—Bruce Wayne. He gapes. Or, he would, if his mouth were fully under his control.

“I’m afraid that is my contribution, Mr. Kent,” Wayne says, coming closer. He’s carrying a glass of water with a colorful straw, and he’s more dressed down than Clark has ever seen him, in dark jeans and a flannel that looks distinctly like one of Clark’s. He comes to stand by Clark’s Ma, who doesn’t seem the least bit surprised to have a millionaire standing beside her. “You must be thirsty,” Wayne continues.

Whatever surface Clark is on, it’s higher than a standard bed, so Wayne barely has to bend put the straw at mouth level. Now that he mentions it, Clark is incredibly thirsty. He takes slow slips, squinting suspiciously at Wayne as he does. There is something about him, something important. Something that Clark should remember.

Wayne takes the glass away once Clark’s done and for a moment, they look at one another in silence. Clark and his Ma and Bruce Fucking Wayne.

“Greenhouse,” he forces out again.

“Ah.” Wayne makes an expression that Clark has never seen on his face before, and it takes Clark a moment is realize it’s embarrassment. “Well. You were. It seemed the most… efficient way to get you recovered.” He looks rueful. “Apparently all one needs do is leave you in the sun for a few weeks.”

“But, with the snow,” Ma adds. “And to just leave you out there, I couldn’t— Bruce has been such a help. Without him, I don’t know if,” she cuts herself off, hand going back to her mouth.

Clark tries to sit up, feeling his muscles fight him, every cell protesting movement.

Wayne puts a gentle hand on Clark’s shoulder, not pushing him down. “Don’t push yourself. There are still a few hours of sunlight left today, you should get more feeling back.”

Clark feels that sink in, first with relief, then dawning horror. “You know?” he slurs.

For a moment, Wayne looks taken aback, and he looks over to Ma, as if checking in with her. “Yes. I. Yes.”

Ma comes up at Bruce’s side. “Bruce is in the same line of work, sweetheart. He saved you.”

Clark isn’t used to requiring saving, and he rolls the thought around in head for a moment.

Then he remembers the thing about Wayne that had been so important.

“You—” he draws in a breath, and it catches in his frozen lungs. “You’re Batman.”

Wayne closes his eyes as if letting a blow land. “Yes.” He crouches down so that he’s at Clark’s eye level. “And I know I was,” he has to swallow to get the words out, “wrong. But I would like to start over. I would like to be friends.” Clark realizes that his hearing has already improved some when he hears the way Wayne’s pulse jumps at that. But it doesn’t sound like a lie. “I only hope that I have already begun to make amends.”

“Of course you have,” Ma says, putting a comforting hand on Bruce’s shoulder. “More than enough.”

Bruce doesn’t look at her, is still looking at Clark, when he says “There is no such thing.”

There is something in his eyes, the intensity, the sincerity. Clark believes him. And he wants what he’s offering. He doesn’t want to do this alone anymore.

“Friends?” he repeats.

A smile, or something a lot like it, breaks across Wayne’s face. It changes the lines of him completely, takes him from something haughty and untouchable to something warm and approachable and all too touchable. It’s breathtaking.

Though that could be Clark’s frozen up lungs again.

“Friends,” Wayne confirms. They can’t shake on it, but Wayne clasps him on the shoulder and, when the sun starts to go down a few hours later, he helps Clark sit up enough to walk into the farmhouse.

 


 

Oliver’s not proud of it, but he nearly falls off the roof he’s on when motherfucking Batman drops out of the sky to land next to him.

“What the hell ,” he says, with feeling. He turns around to level his bow at Batman. Batman, who doesn’t seem remotely phased to have a weapon pointing at him.

Though, given his lifestyle, that’s probably a daily experience.

“Green Arrow,” Batman says.

“Uh. It’s just Arrow, actually. The Arrow.” He feels stupid just saying it, but it’s not like he picked the name himself. At last he’s not Batman.

He can’t stop staring. There had been a time, hearing rumors out of Gotham that surpassed even the ones from Star City, when he’d thought Batman was a myth. Before Batman came out of the shadows and teamed up with more biceps that Oliver had ever seen in one place.

“What are you doing here?” he asks, when Batman just stares at him. Oliver hasn’t lowered his bow, but Batman doesn’t seem to expect him to.

“You’ve heard about the Justice League.” He says it as a statement, not a question.

“I hadn’t heard it had a dumb name like that, but yeah.”

Batman scowls at him, but Oliver has no regrets. The Justice League , Jesus. He’s feeling less foolish about Arrow with every second.

“You’ve done good work here,” Batman says. Which is kind of him. Oliver sometimes feels like he doesn’t make a difference. There’s always crime, always new battles to fight, always someone being hurt that he’s too slow to save.

“Thank you?” Oliver offes, when Batman just stares at him. Oliver lowers the bow. Whatever Batman is here for, ihe doesn’t seem to have bad intentions. Awkward intentions, maybe, but now bad.

“I think. We think, that you could do more work. With the League. That we could help one another.”

The pieces fall into place. This is a recruitment pitch. A very bad one. Is this the first time that Batman has done this?

“Pass. Thanks though. I keep to my city, and I like it that way.” Star City needs him, and with the Justice League going around and Superman back, the world is doing just fine without his help. He reaches for one of the grappling arrows, prepared to leave. Batman could follow him, but hopefully he’ll get the messge.

“Wait,” Batman says.

Oliver turns back to him. His mouth, the only feature Oliver can make out clearly, is pinched, and he seems to be struggling with something.

Then he reaches for the lower part of his cowl and pulls it off.

Oliver actually does fall off the roof, and only Batman’s— Bruce Wayne’s— quick lunge forward stops him from going over the edge.

“What the fuck,” he says, with feeling. “You are Batman? But you’re all—” he makes a loose gesture that he hopes indicated Bruce Wayne’s last public appearance. He’d gotten drunk and fallen off the stage. It had been hilarious.

Bruce quirks an eyebrow, a familiar gesture from their years of running in tangential circles on an unfamiliar face. “You’re one to talk.”

And, oh God , he knows. How the hell does he know. Oliver is starting to think that the rumors that came out of Gotham, which he’d dismissed as hyperbole and exaggeration, didn’t do the man justice.

When Oliver just gapes at him, Bruce fucking Wayne holds out a hand. It’s cased in a heavy glove, nothing like the cleanly manicured hand he’s shaken at so many society functions. “We were friends once,” Batman says, which is a generous description of their school boy relationship, “I think we can be friends again.”

Oliver looks at his hand, and think about the League, sorry, the Justice League he’s seen on tv. He could do worse.

“Fine.” He takes Batman’s hand. “I’ll join your club. But I’m not calling myself the Green Arrow.”

Batman grins, all Bruce for just a moment. “We’ll see.”

 


 

Tim is almost shaking with nerves the first time Dick takes him to meet Batman. Bruce Wayne. He’d figured it out, of course, had known before he approached Nightwing that first time, but there is knowing and there is seeing.

“I’ve told him about you, of course,” Dick says. “He actually seemed much more chill about than I expected. I thought he’d flip over training someone else.”

Tim had thought about approaching Bruce Wayne years ago, about asking Dick to take him to be the next Robin, when Batman so clearly needed one. And then Superman had happened, and Batman had only spiralled darker and Tim—Tim couldn’t be what a man like that needed.

But it’s been a year and some change and Superman is—impossibly, amazingly—alive. And more than that, unmistakably allied with Batman and the rest of the League.

When his parents died, when he was left with an empty house and more empty hours than he knew how to spend, it had been Dick’s idea to take him to meet Bruce. Tim is ready now. And, more importantly, he thinks Bruce might be ready as well.

“You’re sure about this?” he asks Dick, staring out the window as they pass from Blüdhaven into Gotham.

“Nope!” Dick says cheerfully. “That’s what makes it fun.”

Tim turns to give him the filthiest look he can manage, and Dick grins and reaches over to ruffle his hair.

“Get off!” Tim says, pushing his hand away and trying to straighten it. He tried to make himself all presentable and everything.

“It’ll be fine. I actually think Batman is excited to meet you.”

He always does that, calls him Batman to Tim, even though Tim has told him again and again that he know who he is. Even though they’re clearly going to the Wayne estate.

As they get closer, Tim is surprised to see, not the burnt wreckage that the Wayne Manor had been the last time he’d been here, but a solid wooden scaffolding, the clear bones of a house under construction.

“He’s rebuilding?”

“Well, yeah,” Dick says, as though it’s obvious. “He can hardly make you live in the lake house.”

He says it as though it’s a given, a done deal that Bruce will like Tim, will take him as a ward in addition to a Robin.

“Oh,” Tim says, throat tight. He clears it, blinking quickly. “Cool.”

Dick reaches out to ruffle his hair again, and Tim knocks it away this time.

When they pull up to the Lake House, Tim takes a deep breath.

“Ready?” Dick asks.

“Ready,” Tim confirms, and gets out of the car.