A/N: A darker, defeated, broken Batman in this one, folks. An exploration of trauma and how it creates tragic beings, and how those tragic beings choose to cope and fight against their personal tragedies.
The world is dark. One cursory glance will tell even the most optimistic that darkness prevails. The task of those of us who chose to improve the world is to accept this and use it as a strength. I have, and there is not a punk in Gotham who isn't terrified by me: Batman. Sure some are cocky, think that they aren't big enough to notice, I only go after the Joker, or other twisted freaks. All freaks have beginnings, whether Two-Face, Poison Ivy, the Joker or me. I had a beginning, I had a prologue, I can remember smiling when I was young. Strange how only the sincere smiles come when I forget, or am making some punk get the message.

Problem with heroes is they get too caught up in idealism to make more than a dent in the world order. I don't give a damn about world orders, I don't care if the reason I fight is for peace, or the American way. I was the poster child for the American Way long before Superman learned how to fly, then my parents died. Everything from that moment has been solace for me. I was tainted with both bullets that ripped their hearts to shreds. My hope is dead, it's too late for me, no one can save me now. That is why I sacrifice myself night after night, not so the perfect way of life will be preserved or to convert the masses to my ideals. If the masses did what I do, humanity would have committed suicide by now. I sacrifice myself because I'm already scarred, and maybe if I defeat one more villain, I can save one more soul.

Flash think's I'm creepy, not all heroes wear red. He and the rest of the Justice League are governed by rules, self-imposed laws and ideals that make them heroes. Whoever said I am a hero has never seen what I do. If you want a hero, Superman's in Metropolis, this is Gotham, this is darkness, this is war. I do what has to be done so I can be done with it, picking up the carcasses is a past time. I give the carcasses costumes and training, sending them out as crowd control: Nightwing, Robin, Batgirl. Kids not yet jaded enough to understand I didn't give them their costumes out of the greater good, but because I'm a selfish man and every selfish, power hungry man wants more. I can only be in one place at a time, think of what I could accomplish if I was never Bruce Wayne. Bruce Wayne, the actor, an Oscar winning performance for one screwed up little boy who wished he had wings. So he made wings, what is Batman without his cape?

Bruce Wayne in a mask: incompetent, futile, powerless Bruce, a playboy with too much money and no reality in the parties and functions that pass for the "American Dream". Dream is right. Superman once asked why I don't just give it up, hand in my cape, fill the Batcave with cement and live the glamourous life I was born into. Let's just say it was one of those days. The answer that came out caused a large enough tremour to break me, shatter me: I was honest.

I'm not sane, one conversation with the Flash will grant that, maybe I could be sane, but too much has gone wrong. The world is wrong. Why not die with it? At least I can take some with me, maybe if I try hard enough I can let the next generation heal. This generation has already blistered and burst, puss and blood from a thousand other fears drowning the needles and chasers of Vodka through such an unending pit it makes the Batcave look like a backyard plastic wading pool. Why should I be happy? There's nothing to be happy about. I know if I killed my enemies instead of giving them to the authorities it would stop the madness, soon enough every little punk would be too scared to litter let alone kill a small boy's parents for drug money. One reason I don't? Superman won't let me. He's too caught up in his fight for goodness, he can't understand in that farm boy head of his that my fight's already over and I've made my choice. I choose the darkness.

Wonder Woman is flying towards me. I can hear her hair catching in the breeze, and her rope slapping softly against her hip. Wonder Woman, Princess of the Amazons, Diana, my friend. Unlike Superman, she understands my nature and allows me room to move and do what I do. Superman thinks his lot in life is to serve me more of his ma's pecan pie and appologize to the people I offend. He talks too much. Diana and I will have entire adventures and hardly say a word. She knows me, and has never looked away. Not even Nightwing or Alfred can say that.

I'm crouched on one of my favourite gargoyles this one has large bat like wings and scouls down on the people far below, except it's missing an eye from some battle. It's where I come when I want someone to find me, but no one ever does, except Diana. She sits perched next to me, I can feel how close she is by the temperature of her breath on my neck, and her receeding body heat radiating through my cape. Time passes, 42 minutes by the passage of the stars, and number of streetlights flickering like ant matches below.

"When's the last time you've been drunk?" a small breath exhales from her mouth as her muscles contract into a close-mouthed smile. I can feel my muscles contracting to a smile, I let them. Only for her.

"Once after a great battle, my sisters on Themiscyra brought a large quantity of fine ales and wines as bounty, we danced and sang, drinking til sunrise the next morning. Athena's portion still sits in her temple as an offering. The headache I had rivaled being hit with a nuke"

I love this woman. I'm not a romantic, I would never act, but I would do almost anything for her and she knows it. The reason she knows it is because the feeling is mutual. I've got evidence to back it up. The rain is coming down now, I like the rain, it's soothing.

Instinctively, I drape my cape to encompass Diana, too. Call me old fashioned, but Alfred taught me to never let a woman get wet. Alfred taught me respect, humanity and how to exist in this world as Bruce Wayne. Without him I would be dead. Warm tears are flooding down my face, the rain hides them, but Diana knows better, to her I'm just a small broken man, Oddyseus after returning home aged and decrepit, still wounded from Troy. I feel her arm lacing around my waist, soon she'll notice the blood caked along the deep wound in my side, a memento from this evening's fight. At least Two-Face got an express ticket to three more years in Arkham. I finally open my eyes to the smell of her hair: tropical and herbal, flooding my nose as she leans her head close to my face. Her expression is one of worry, patience and routine. She nods, cradling me against her Amazon body, flying into the night, hidden, untraceable to my manor, and the medical supplies in the Batcave. I let her carry me, my arm's dislocated, my last grapple broke and I didn't bring my car.

Once secure in the cave, I throw my cape and cowl to the floor, careful of ripping the open flesh on my right side as she takes off my costume top and throws it in the incinerator. Alfred already lined out the medical supplies I'd need, courtesy of the electronic read out of my injuries fed wirelessly to the Batcave computer. This time Two-Face's thug sliced into my side, almost hitting my liver. They're getting deadlier by the night, and we both know it. I grunt sharply as she sews up my side, pushing together the skin with her fingers, stopping long enough to take the needle with morphine and silently ask if I'll take it. I don't use drugs, but tonight I let her inject some into my system, she has to re-set my left foot later, I broke it kicking through a brick wall, then got nicked by a bullet. She's continuing to sew up my side, another scar, another night. Bruce Wayne doesn't swim, no one sees the scars except Diana, Alfred and sometimes Nightwing. Selena saw them years ago, there weren't so many, when we made love on a rooftop. She moved on, Catwoman in another city. She would come help if I asked, but I don't. Red streaks flash past my eyes as Diana snaps my shoulder back into it's socket, the morphine numbing out everything but the sound, a sharp crack and pop followed by a heavy sigh from the Princess. She doesn't have to come I havn't figured out why she does, it fascinates me why someone so pure and radiant as Diana lets herself be engulfed by a weak man like me. Three more cracks as she uses her collossal strength to put my foot back in place. It'll be tender for a while, but if I can fight with a broken back, this will cause little problem. Her fingers are gently wrapping my foot exactly the way I like it. Soon Alfred would come down with food, I would starve if he didn't take care of me. Not tonight, I called him when I knew Diana would be coming, tonight we're going to have dinner like proper friends.

"Diana" the softness in my voice surprises her, it's the morphine.

"Are you hungry?" I finish, monitoring her response with the increase of blood flow to her cheeks and the way her eyes sparkled for less than a second. She nods, we go upstairs, I leave Batman behind me and change into what Alfred calls proper clothing: black trousers and a white dress shirt. Diana flies up to the room I gave her, changes into a pair of blue jeans and a soft empire waisted top that folds and flows two and a half inches below her waistline, gifts courtesy of a shopping trip she took with Barbara. She disguarded her costume and wears her hair in a ponytail, her silver bracelets still adorning her arms, matching the pale blue/white of the shirt fabric. We eat in the kitchen, there's a smaller table that seats eight we use when there's no company.

"If only she would stay" Alfred mutters, putting plates of some food whose name I can't be bothered to know down while Diana hides a smirk.

"Alfred" he does this every time, and every time she pretends not to hear.

"Forgive me Master Bruce, but the Princess certainly has taken a liking to the place." Alfred whispers, Diana's eyes went temporarily wide, this is going to get awkward. Thankfully, Alfred's gone to make dessert and Diana and I are in silence once again. I pass her the salt, she refills my wine glass, I give her my beets, she gives me her potatoes, it's as familiar as breathing. It won't last.

I will age, she will stay exactly as she is. A goddess in the clothing of mortals. I should push her away, I should become cold, unattached, but I lost the strength for it when she kept coming back. She doesn't seem to understand that I will only break her in the end. I remember a phrase from an ancient Roman text,

"Odi et amo, quare id fecere forasse requiris... Nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior"

"I hated and I love, perhaps you ask why I do it... I don't know, but I feel it and I'm tortured" Diana answers my latin with the english equivalent as Alfred comes in with dessert.

"Bruce.."

I shake my head to silence her as Alfred puts dessert down on the table and takes our used plates. If it were any other day, I would eat and help him clean the dishes, but since Diana's here routine has been defeated for spontaneity.

"Don't try to change me, Diana. You will fail. Everyone has"

"Including myself it seems" Alfred whispers under his breath, rolling his eyes and walking back into the kitchen. Diana is calculating what it would take to defeat or diffuse the situation. Always the warrior, I like that but it won't help. On this playing field, I am master. We stare each other down, I am afraid of what I see:

Diana's regal heritage spews from her gaze with the authority of her royal status, her Amazonian warrior nature prevailing over all with a fury that if unchecked would consume all, but the one thing I have been afraid to see in her eyes is there. Submission. I tried to scare her away, protect her with all I can from afar, to have her hate me, to spoil whatever chances we might have had in order to have her not regret her immortality. I wanted her to disagree, to fight, to never change her strength, but now all I see is a woman stronger than I could ever be giving in to my pleas, and is still here. She was supposed to go. Now all that is left is to poison her with love, an unholy alliance of instinct and will until she too is broken. She was supposed to leave, what did I do wrong?

"Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen"

"Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi."

"Use my culture against me I use your culture against you"

I let her see a small smirk on my face, she looks at me with her eyes, her deep, truthful eyes. She is my opposite.

"I won't try and change you Bruce, but I will remind you that there is always another side to your soul you can explore"

I sit alone and think of all that has come before, I regret, and am sad. Maybe one day I can change. Not tonight. I have no strength but to fold my hand onto my forehead and repeat the prayer Diana recited. I hope she was right. Not tonight.