p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"Ten minutes earlier, Patrick Parker had watched Bruce Wayne slip out of a meeting he clearly hadn't wanted to be in. Five minutes after that, the two of them had slid into one of the many elevators in the building—first Bruce, then himself. Parker had watched Bruce punch in a ground-level number, and then he had followed suit, punching in the number one level below. The standard parking garage. The peasant level./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"Parker had settled in behind Bruce, back flush with the sheeny metal walls. Something about Bruce was absent here, he noticed, just as it had been in that meeting; after all, Parker had been watching him there too, in all his silence and mediocrity. Right now, he wasn't even sure if Bruce could see him, if he even knew he was there./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"A strange sort of excitement coiled up in him at the thought. For once, being invisible brought him little else but joy. The sniveling loneliness inside him had gone silent with intrigue, staring at the shiny nape of Bruce Wayne's neck./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"The tiny metal coffin of the elevator was pure, still. The first time Parker had been inside Wayne Tower, he'd thought it would shiver around him like the tenement elevators, but it moved like a knife into sun-warmed fats, easily and just a little too fast. There was no resistance, almost like there was no air to girdle their hiding place. Parker realized his breathing had slowed, quieting into tiny, absent clouds. Silence was golden, he remembered from some lost time; he let it stay that way./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"Bruce Wayne gazed into the groin between the elevator wall and the door. From behind, Parker watched as he idly scratched his forehead, staring aimlessly forward as though the metal legs fascinated him./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"In a moment of fascination, of his own sort of weakness, Parker reached forward, up and toward Bruce's suit collar./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"They could meet now instead, something in him reasoned. It wouldn't be strange. It would save Parker an awful lot of time and trouble; maybe, he realized, he could get Bruce Wayne talking. Follow him out to his car, maybe. He couldn't have parked far, Parker thought. A man like Bruce Wayne wouldn't walk any longer than he had to, work any harder than he had to. He'd proven that a long time ago./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"His breath quickened, and something hot coiled in the front of his pants. He bit the inside of his cheek to tame it, fingertips skimming just over the hairs at the base of Bruce's neck./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"He jerked his hand back as though he'd touched a hot stovetop, suppressing a gasp, a faux emI'm so sorry /emand its ensuing excuses already warm on Parker's tongue. He had been following Bruce for hours, but he had yet to really see his face up close. He wondered what secrets might be left for him to comb through, what he might be able to glean from the lines in Bruce's cheeks./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"But nothing happened. Bruce reached back and swiped his hand over the back of his head as though chasing away a fly, and then he was still./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"For a moment, something rabid rose against Parker's mouth. Was he really that much of an insect to the great emBruce Thomas Wayne? /emBruce's eyes were elsewhere, his mind uninhabited; Parker's heart fought with itself over the indifference, the ignorance. That ignorance had been kind enough to grant Parker the privilege of observing a Bruce who believed he was alone—a drug that he quickly realized he would need to swallow again. But ignorant people turned his stomach, and Bruce's ignorance in particular called up something deep in him, something primal. Something enraged./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"Something desperate and sad./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"The elevator chimed for Bruce's floor, and he shook his head faintly, as though pretending to center himself before falling right back down into his morose little dream-world, whatever it might have been. He stepped off into the shiny corridor beyond, threatening to disappear./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"Parker pretended to wait for his own floor, back flush to the elevator wall. He watched with hooded, owlish eyes as the soles of Bruce Wayne's shoes licked marble. emNo, /emhe shook his head, emyou won't think of anything but yourself unless it hits you right in the face, will you? /em/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"The door to the elevator began to slide shut, and Parker let it. No one but him was truly paying attention./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"At the last moment, he slipped his left hand through the gap between the door and the wall; it glided to that fatty-smooth stop, hesitating before his fingers and rolling back out to the opposite wall./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"And Bruce Wayne continued forward, feet slow and pig-ignorant. He didn't suspect a thing./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"As he stepped over the threshold, out of the silver box and into the land of the living, Parker really couldn't help himself. The ghost of a smile bled over the front of his mouth./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""Wow," he murmured under his breath, underneath that tiny little smile. He slipped into the waning streams of people, dissolving through their in-betweens like an ancient fish./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""You're really not as smart as I thought you were," he rounded a bend that he knew would bring him around to intercept his target, "Bruce Wayne."/p
hr style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto; color: #000000;" /
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"The manor was dark that night, just as it was every other night./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"Bruce's old duvet was tender, soft—his sanctuary from Gotham's cold hands. Tonight, though, he was not in his regular quarters, but his childhood bed. It wasn't heated as well as the rest of the manor, having been left untouched during any renovations. It was freezing. Alfred, seeing the direction he had headed in, had asked him if he wanted any extra blankets. He had said no./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"His old mattress was a double, big enough to still fit him, but it felt tiny clinging to his older self, a wet curtain of mist that wouldn't let him go. The captain's bedframe, still full of old cassette tapes, figurines, and CDs—all carefully dusted and ordered by Alfred—sat snug against the room's leftmost corner. The rest of the bed frame ran flush along the adjoined wall, just over the ledge of a bay window. It was quiet, and the sheets were freshly-laundered, covered in the same new soap-smell Alfred had begun using in his absence, but other than that, it was perfect./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"Everything in its right place./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"Bruce's eyes roved over the posters his father had helped him put up. Some were older than others, closer to twenty-five than twenty. He didn't linger on the details of any of them; the ink had long become less important than the paper it was printed on, than the hands that had positioned it./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""There is freedom within," Bruce sang under his breath through half-hooded eyes. "There is freedom without…"/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"Bruce stared up at the junction where the ceiling met the windows' wall, recessed glass unspooling the moon into his lap. The trundle beneath him was barren, its mattress long removed. With it gone, everything felt empty./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""…now," his voice pitched just above a whisper, "don't dream, it's over…"/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"The cold moon glowered down at him, his only companion, soon to be swallowed by encroaching clouds./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"And, just as he had since the meeting at Wayne Tower, he thought about Edward./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"It hadn't taken much; it never really did, not when it came to that mysterious, ancient wound. Lucius had made Bruce promise that, as CEO and majority shareholder, he would attend that meeting—and that he wouldn't leave early. Bruce had kept only one of those promises; a new record after six straight weeks of breaking both, but the same jabbering idiot who always sat across from Bruce just emhad /emto bring up the half-burnt orphanage across town./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"After that, all Bruce had been able to hear was the summer wind against his mother's garden, gentle and smelling warm as always, and Edward Nashton's nervous fingers against his in the dirt./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"Bruce folded his arms into himself, voice feathered and quiet./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""When the world comes in—"/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""Master Bruce?"/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"Just as his eyes lapped against the edge of emthat /emposter—the only one he had put up without his father's help—Bruce whipped around to the source of that familiar voice./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""Alfred," his voice caught in his throat as he turned to face the open door. "I didn't see you there."/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""Master Bruce," Alfred dipped his head, arm extended into the room. His palm shone with upturned moonlight. "What's the matter?"/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"emEverything, /emhe could have said, but he knew, lying like a drowned rat in his too-small bed, that he had to save face somehow./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""I don't…" he tried, "I don't really want to talk about it."/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"Bruce said it to save himself the embarrassment of saying something completely insufferable, like emI can't be like other people /emor emI can't live like this anymore, /emtracing a jagged shape into his palm./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""Are you certain?"/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"Before anything else, Bruce righted himself, sitting up before Alfred could worry over his sad body. "Yes," he sighed, scrubbing his eyes with the heels of his palms. He tried, once again, not to think about Edward Nashton. "I'm very sure."/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"Those words from—what was his name again?—at Wayne Tower rang in his ears./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"emSo you don't actually do anything? /em/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"He curled his hands into fists, not looking up from the ground./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"emHow generous. /em/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""I failed him, Alfred." He mumbled despite himself. "And I failed both of my parents. Everyone. And I've never done a damn thing for this city in all my life."/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""Master Bruce, that simply isn't true—"/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""Alfred, please."/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"Silence. He already felt bad, and cutting Alfred off made him feel worse, but there was only so much he could take. "Don't patronize me," he said, quieter. "Put me next to Lucius, and I'm just a paper jockey. I sign whatever he puts in front of me and that's it, and you know that." /p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""There's plenty more than signing papers that your family has done for this city, Master Bruce. Don't lose sight of that. Your family embuilt /emthis city."/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""That's my family, not me," Bruce's voice caught on the word emfamily. /em"And this city is falling apart." He sighed. "Come on, Alfred. You're not blind, and you're a hell of a lot smarter than I am. I don't want platitudes. Just be honest with me."/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""My apologies, Master Bruce. I only wanted to offer you some kind words."/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"Against his better judgment, Bruce looked up at Alfred, filterless and staring right through him. "If words could have changed the way I feel, I would have been cured of all this from the first week of July."/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"On the word emJuly, /emthe air settled over them both, undisturbed by words./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""Grief, then."/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"Bruce grew very tired./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""I guess so."/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""Well," Alfred nodded to himself as though he should have known better, "there certainly aren't any words fit for what you're feeling now. Kind or otherwise." He added, "I thought you were just down on yourself again. I'm sorry."/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""It's fine, Alfred. Thank you."/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"They blanketed the room in quiet, tucking the edges in as slivers of new rain trailed down the bay windows./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"It seemed that nearly everyone had moved on long ago, save to pity him in passing, but Bruce still ate breakfast in 1986. He dressed himself in 1986 and he shaved his face in 1986. When Bruce got in his car to drive to meetings, rare though he ever did, he found the steering wheel strange in his too-large hands, because it was 1986. When Bruce dreamt, it was 1986 again, the year swimming over him in great, slow waves, like the Spirit upon the waters. And when he awoke from those dreams, he was alone, because nearly everything he knew had gone according to that great, pitiless expiration date./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"Day, the twenty-sixth. Thursday, late evening. Month, the sixth—June. Year, 1986. A short little pile of four numbers that all added up to less than his current age./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""I miss him," he finally whispered. "I miss him more than anything right now."/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""Your father, Master Bruce?"/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""…Yeah," Bruce said after a moment, because it was easier than the truth. "My father."/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"Alfred's eyes softened, wet and gray in the shadow of Bruce's doorway. "Not a day goes by that I don't think of him as well." He looked off into the distance, past Bruce and through the wall. "Would you like me to come in?"/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"As good a man as Alfred was, it somehow never occurred to him that Bruce might be mourning more than just his flesh and blood. Although, Bruce thought, it had never occurred to the papers either. Not one line had been printed about Edward Nashton, although the press had plenty of space in its mouth for death; the television's lips were bleak and heavy with the Wayne family's name for six long weeks after the night of June 26th, tarrying long at the wine of that endless Gotham night./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"From dawn 'til sunset, it had seemed like the only thing anyone talked about. And then, all at once, the chatter had stopped—once the news went out of vogue, little Bruce had realized. Fostered in fields of tragedy, it didn't take very long for jaded greens to grow./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"Bruce still remembered the way it smelled. Dirty fear in the air. Impending rains. The tangy, ugly scent of human blood, a scent he had never known before in his life. It had felt like a scream in his nose and on his tongue, a deadly, squirming thing from the pickled underbelly of Hell. When he swallowed, it felt like he ate that fear—their fear—as they spilled out into the alley drains below./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"He had reached out for his mother and father that night, smearing that blood into his hands. He had reached out to try and help. To right the wrong of having brought them there./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"And he had failed. And for all the rest of his days after that, he had failed too./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"Before Bruce could look up from the floor, he felt Alfred's weight settle in beside him, just far enough away that he could relax./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""Alfred…"/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""Master Bruce," Alfred whispered in kind. "What can I do for you?"/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"One, plus nine, plus eight, plus six./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""I need to go for a drive," he answered, "and I need you to come with me."/p
hr style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto; color: #000000;" /
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"Each night, Patrick Parker latched himself up inside his apartment. Each night, he settled uncomfortably in front of the scratches in his bathroom mirror and took out his contact lenses, bitter with the squirming fear that rose every time he put his fingers too close to his eyes. Work had once again washed out to the wayside, and emhe /emwas left behind; a weak, groveling creature who stumbled over himself—a wretched being, a lonely wraith without a face or a name./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"Regardless of their arbitrary differences, each night was the same at its core, the road ending in the same consequences. He always ended up on these shores./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"He winced as he peeled his left contact out, biting the inside of his lip to keep himself steady. He tried not to look in the mirror, but it pulled his eyes by magnetic force, drawing them to a distant pair of awkward, gangly hands. A sickly Adam's apple. The lightest etchings of facial hair, barely-there against his cheeks and jaw./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"He couldn't remember himself before these features. They had sprouted into him seemingly overnight, thick, useless weeds against the backdrop of a dirty skyline. emParker, Patrick /emhad an empty childhood, a nothing-body with no personal history. His entire life amounted to a three-and-a-half inch wide plastic card; a grainy photo of his strained smile; a poorly-scrawled signature; a birthday that he wasn't sure was his. /p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"On the surface, he looked ordinary, full of human blood. He still felt his heart beat sometimes, right through his chest—like it had in the elevator with Bruce Wayne, strangely—but that was all folly, purely mechanical. It had to be. He had no substance, no form; all useless things had been removed from him as though by surgery, and like water, he assumed the shape of any container he was made to fill./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"Right now, that container was his downtown apartment, a quiet rectangle with a small bathroom and an even smaller kitchen. He had enough money to keep it warm, and he kept it warmer than it had to be, stripping half his clothes off the moment he locked the door behind him. His bare chest shone with the beginnings of sweat in the dirty mirror, and everything else blurred away./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"He fell deeper into that silver glass, a faceless thing undeserving of a human soul, brow melting through into somewhere else—an inverted world where, maybe, the mysteries of his life would start making sense. Where reality could come back to him, rather than the other way around./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"The more he thought about it, the more his head felt like it was splitting down the middle. His half-vision made him sick—fully capable in one eye, the other muggy and blind. His stomach twisted, and he felt something shiver up from the base of his throat./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""No," he whispered into the dirty sink, and pried out the other lens./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"In his voice's absence, the apartment fell oddly silent. With both contacts out, his reflection was blurry, unreadable. Mute. With great relief, he slipped away from the mirror and all its reaching hands, narrowly escaping it./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""I don't want to go back there," he said to no one. Even those words, mumbled where no man could hear them, felt like a vile infraction, a violation of this strange parole./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"He said to no one, quieter this time, "I need to start wearing glasses again," and turned his back on himself, heading for the shower./p
hr style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto; color: #000000;" /
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"Bruce sat in the back seat of the Rolls like a child, face covered from the nose down, forehead smearing a line into the left window. The city lights rubbed on by, wet and wrinkly with the smell of gutter water. Everything warbled and twisted behind the thick rain running down the car windows; the only one of them who could really see anything was Alfred, stoic and precise behind the sweeping growl of windshield wipers./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"The tail lights of the cars in front of them leered back at Bruce, and he tried not to pay attention to his surroundings. He didn't have much luck./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"Alfred changed lanes, and they peeled away from view, safe from the city center's roaming eyes. Bruce tugged his mouth free of the covering on his face, letting it sag against his collar./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"emI need you to come with me. /em/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"The words still swirled over his tongue, the final dregs of an icky, greasy bath, residue he couldn't wash away. He had told himself on his flight back to Gotham that he wouldn't do this anymore, that he wouldn't perform these coded charades with himself, and especially not with Alfred; no more oily fantasies, no more agony over times long lost./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"No more twilight visits to his parents' grave. /p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"Still, they rounded the same old bend they always did. Rain washed over the window beside him, but it did nothing to dispel the oil./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""I'm sorry," Bruce offered, even though he knew how insincere it sounded. "I shouldn't have made you come out here."/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""No need to apologize, Master Bruce." Alfred said the same thing he said every time Bruce needed to emgo for a drive. /em"I know where we're going."/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""…Yeah," he muttered, strangling back another apology. "Thanks."/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"Tires over gravel. Alfred parked, stepping out of the car first to offer Bruce space under his umbrella./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"The Waynes shared one headstone; as in life, so in death. Bruce's eyes settled on three slices of ornate cursive: emin loving memory, /emchiseled into unduly expensive rock, bleak and now tingling with stains from Gotham's acid rain./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"emSo much for forever, /emBruce thought, barely. He wondered how long it would take for his parents' names to be washed from the planes of history, and then his own. The last of his kind./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"It had felt like forever, and it had felt like no time at all. Even through the rain's droning knells, Bruce found it all far too quiet./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""I wanted to see them one last time," Bruce said, putting a thin crack in the silence. As though the trip needed an explanation. /p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""Oh, you'll come see them again, Master Bruce. You always do." Alfred's eyes didn't leave the leftmost engraving under Bruce's three words—em Thomas Alan Wayne. /em"And that's just fine with me."/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"There was a third name that should have been there, Bruce thought, but he kept it to himself. Alfred was lost in the same sort of reverie Bruce himself had been trapped in all day. He wasn't about to make things worse./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""One of these days, you should really bring some flowers," Alfred offered. "There's this lovely woman down across from that old diner, you know. She grows the most beautiful violets. Your mother's favorite," he said mistily, as though Bruce might not remember, "Coming up on twenty years now, and you've never done it once."/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""No thank you," Bruce said plainly, voice crisp. "But I'll let you know if I change my mind."/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"The year was 1986, and Bruce knew he didn't need any flowers. The earth was packed hard in front of the tombstone, slick with long-toothed grass, and he wondered if his parents were really buried there at all./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""…Has it really been so hard for you?" Alfred further tried to bridge the gulf between them, voice muted in the rain. "Being back in this city?"/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"At first, Bruce didn't answer, crushing up a row of mud with the toe of his shoe. "I'm not myself, Alfred." He said it like a warning, like it was somehow more serious than any other pathetic, contrived thing he'd come up with in his captain's bed. "And I don't think I will be for much longer."/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"Alfred knelt forward and pressed a rose into the gap where the grass met the headstone. It was dark against the marble—so dark it almost looked black under the dim sky. "You're enough as you are, Master Bruce."/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"emYou're wrong, /emBruce didn't say. He didn't crouch to follow Alfred or his umbrella, letting the rain fall over him in dark, friendless curtains./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""I don't know, Alfred." He drew up another tip of curdled mud, bangs humid, plastered to his brow. "I really don't know."/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"emMy body can move, /emhe thought. emMy hands can form fists and open doors. Even if you didn't drive me, I think I could find my way here with my eyes closed. /emHe studied what was left of his parents, thick-cut marble, unblinking under the static moonlight. emBut I'm a prisoner in my own skull. There's nothing more that Bruce Wayne can do for this world. /em/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""I need to become more."/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"emI need to become more than this body. /em/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"Alfred didn't answer. He straightened his back and sheltered Bruce again./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""That thing I talked to you about—" Even under the lonely drum of the rain, Bruce had the sense to lower his voice, "can we still manage it?"/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""Everything is in place, Master Bruce. If you really want to move forward with it, all you have to say is when."/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"Bruce set his jaw. "I have to be more than a man." He stared down into the marble. "I need to be a symbol. The person I am now can't do anything." He remembered the encounter in Wayne Tower, guilt springing up in him as he realized he was already forgetting the man's face. "Hasn't done anything. Will continue to do nothing."/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""Well, whoever you are…" Alfred chose his words carefully. "Whatever you become," he added, "I will be here. And I'll be at your service."/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""Whoever you are…" Bruce repeated, turning the words around in his mouth, "Whoever you are, Alfred, you raised me. Whatever my feelings, whether we share blood or not, you were always there. You got me this far." He studied his father's headstone, and then the nineteen years of wear around his name./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""I'm sorry," he said again, breaking eye contact with the grave. "For being so harsh earlier. Like I said, I'm not really myself today."/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""And whoever you are, Master Bruce," Alfred looked up from Thomas's white face, "today or any other day, I'll still be here. Like emI /emsaid."/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"Bruce's eyes clouded over with early smears of tears, but he blinked them away before they could run down his face; with an umbrella in the way, he couldn't blame them on the rain anymore./p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""Then take me home," he murmured. "Please," he added. Despite his request, Bruce didn't move, feet anchored to the ground, eyes lingering on the empty plot next to his mother. "I have a lot to think about."/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""Are you sure there's nothing else you'd like to talk about, Master Bruce?"/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;""No thank you," he said again. The edge was gone out of his voice, his throat a set of tired, windless sails. "Let's get back to the manor."/p
p style="-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto;"With the strength of giants, they both turned from the marble and left. Bruce didn't say anything about the missing headstone, but he doubly didn't bring up the empty spaces around the grave. There were just enough plots for everyone; one spot to the left of Thomas for Edward Nashton, and one next to Martha for himself./p