DISCLAIMER: I do not own any of the characters. Nightwing and all of his friends belongs to DC comics. I'd be a happy woman if Dick belonged to me...but no such luck. I have not made any profit out of writing this, so please don't sue me. It would not be worth your while.
Author Comment: Thank you to my wonderful beta, Jean whose comments force me to examine my writing. There are a number of spelling, grammar and punctuation differences between Australia and the USA... please forgive me for writing with an accent. (g)
WARNING: I have nooooo medical knowledge. There are likely to be inaccuracies in this story. I hope you can enjoy it despite this.
Special Thanks: Thank you to all those people who have left such wonderful feedback. Some of you haven't left your e-mail addresses so I haven't been able to thank you. I just want you to know that your kind words mean so much.
Grief. A faceless entity. An invisible and insidious assault on the very soul of a man. Each must find his own path back from the abyss. Some, however, are forever lost.
Bruce stared down at the wooden cross in front of him. Not much to show for a life. Certainly not enough for a free spirit like... Wayne swallowed.
The wind picked up around him as winter announced itself without mercy. One of the shutters on the small shed behind him began to bang against the wall - a pounding emptiness that echoed the meaninglessness of the figure's own existence.
The horses in the distant stables shifted restlessly, sensing the approach of a frosty evening. Bruce shivered, though made he no attempt to pull his jumper around himself. Such an action required unconscious thought... and Wayne wasn't even capable of that. The anger, disbelief and refusal to accept what others proclaimed had all been replaced by an emotion this man knew only too well. The most debilitating state of mind and heart known to humanity had risen up and consumed him.
Wayne lifted his eyes to the long drive way that snaked its way up to the property. He longed to see the approach of... but he never would again. The millionaire re-focused his attention on the impassive stake that represented everything that had meant anything to him.
"Master Bruce." Wayne didn't move. Alfred wasn't sure if his charge had heard him. The elderly man didn't want to interrupt, but he knew he needed to get Bruce indoors before the grieving man caught pneumonia. Alfred approached his companion and stopped beside him. For a long time he said nothing, staring himself at the plain wooden cross inscribed with a name. Bruce had refused to create a memorial of marble. Nor had he acknowledged the service held at the cemetery. Rather, he had come here... here to a spot that meant something to him... that had meant something to both of them.
The wind lashed the pair as they stood motionless, one drowning in his own numbness, the other searching for some way to help this man he thought of as a son to deal with his grief.
"It's getting dark. Let's go inside," Alfred coaxed, turning. Wayne didn't move - tragically frozen in the shadow of the cross. "Bruce," Alfred encouraged, taking the silent figure's arm. For the first time since Alfred had arrived some twenty minutes earlier, Wayne acknowledged his presence with a nod. Together the two men walked toward the looming mansion some two hundred feet away.
They walked in silence, Alfred's heart as lost as Bruce's, but he had found the strength he needed to go on in the fact that Bruce needed him - needed him like he'd never needed him before.
When they reached the house, Alfred unlocked the door. "You go on in. I've got to get some things from the car."
Wayne made no indication that he'd heard. Alfred watched the once proud man climb the stairs, his face dropped and his arms hanging uselessly at his sides. Alfred Pennyworth shut his eyes and tried to maintain control of his emotions. He just couldn't handle seeing Bruce like this. Happiness had literally slipped through Wayne's fingers.
"Why don't you get a fire started while I unpack these groceries," the butler suggested, entering the huge open lounge room. Wayne didn't move. He was sitting on the edge of one of the leather chairs, his elbows on his knees, hands clasped in front of him and eyes directed at the floor with intense concentration. "Master Bruce?" Wayne raised his face. "Come on, son. You get a fire started. It's going be cold tonight."
Rising to his feet, Bruce headed for the door. "I'll get some firewood." Words! Finally, Alfred had been able to get a response out of Bruce. Almost two weeks without a single sound had been wearing at the butler's resolve. After all, he too was grieving.
Fuelled with renewed hope, Alfred headed into the kitchen, unpacked the groceries and spread the contents on the polished bench. Gifts had been rolling in almost hourly and considering the crisis, it was quite remarkable. Some beef from James Gordon. Some homemade bread from the Selina. An apple pie from Cassandra. Fruit from Tim's parents. Everyone had offered something. They all felt Bruce and Alfred's loss.
Grabbing some plates, Alfred began to slice the beef and share it out. Tonight he was determined to see Bruce eat something. Since the tragedy, Wayne hadn't eaten anything except the broth Leslie had managed to force into his mouth in hospital, but that was almost a week ago. Over the twelve days since the tragedy, Bruce had lost a considerable amount of weight. The fever had knocked him around originally, but the millionaire had lost interest in food since - lost interest in everything. His face was pale and gaunt. His actions were listless, almost tragic. Once Leslie had released him from hospital, Bruce had come home to the Manor. He hadn't been seen in Gotham since... and neither had Batman, which was becoming an issue.
As Pennyworth passed the window, his attention was drawn outside. Bruce had returned to the cross. Once again, the millionaire stood motionless - just staring at it. Alfred could feel the tears welling in his eyes. "Come on, my boy. Don't do this," the elderly man muttered to himself. He made his way to the door and shouted above the wind, "So, how's that firewood coming?"
Wayne remained still and silent for several more seconds and then continued on his path to the wood pile. Some moments later, he re-entered the enormous, empty house and dumped the logs next to the hearth. Without a word, the millionaire began to stack the fire. Halfway through, his hands stilled and his head dropped. Across the room, Alfred sensed the cessation of movement. The butler glanced over his shoulder. Wayne drew in a juddering breath and began to shake his head.
Alfred lowered the tray of food to the coffee table and walked up behind his companion. It was time for him to say something. This couldn't continue. "Master Bruce, it's been two weeks. You've got to let go."
"That's exactly what I did, Alfred. I let him go." Bruce stared down at his own hands. His mind was accosted with an image of Dick's face. The shock, the realization, the acceptance of his fate and finally a private message communicated via his eyes, before he was wrenched from his partner's grasp.
"Bruce, don't. You didn't let him go. No man could have held on any longer."
"Maybe. Maybe if it had been Clark... "
"Bruce, you can't do this to yourself! Dick wouldn't want this for you." Alfred forced a smile. "If I know that boy, he's probably watching you right now cursing you. I can just imagine what he'd be saying. Something like..."
"DON'T!" Bruce yelled, leaping to his feet.
Alfred swallowed, his face shadowing with despair. "I don't know what to do for you, Master Bruce," the old man whispered, his voice laced with the deep anguish he felt. Old man. Alfred felt incredibly old tonight. He had aged considerably in the last two weeks. "I just..." He looked away.
Wayne's anger left him quickly. The grieving man walked past his friend, patting Alfred's arm as he went by.
Pennyworth collected himself and set about changing the subject. "Miss Cassandra sent you an apple pie. I thought I might help you eat it." There was no response. "Master Tim dropped in today. While the National Guard has been able to get essential services working, morale is very low and Arkham is still missing a number of its key residents. Apparently, things are quite out of control. I think young Master Tim could use a hand." Alfred waited. Would Bruce consider the proposal? Would he once again pull on the cape and cowl?
"No, Alfred. I've got things I need to do here."
Alfred suppressed the urge to ask what. Gotham was desperately trying to survive one of the greatest almost-natural disasters it had ever seen. The disaster was natural only in so far as the destruction had been the result of nature, but nature had not acted of her own accord. Nature wasn't that precise. At exactly the same moment, cities all over the world were hit by differing tragedies. Tornadoes, cyclones, blizzards and fires ravaged the Earth at the beckoning of a faceless foe. The planet's protectors could not face the cause on a united front, each racing to their home base to do what they could to protect innocent people from the result of the merciless attack. Metropolis was assaulted by blizzards. Keystone, fires. For Gotham it was a typhoon - a typhoon in the middle of winter. Like the disasters assailing other cities, the typhoon had hit with little warning. The heavy rain caused local flooding within minutes, but the drenching had continued for three days. Gotham City was swamped by driving walls of water. In those seventy-two hours, a decade's worth of rain fell. The devastation was immense. Half the city went under water. More than twenty thousand people had drowned - so quickly had the water risen. There were half a million people missing or displaced in Gotham.
When the typhoon had hit, Batman had sent an emergency request to his team. All had responded immediately and together they had battled the elements to save their city... but not all had survived the war. The casualties had been high - too high. Since Bruce had recovered from the ravages that had afflicted him, he hadn't pulled on the costume... he couldn't pull on the costume.
"How about I help you with whatever it is you need to do and then we can go and give Master Timothy a hand?" Bruce glanced at his friend and Alfred could see it was time to stop pushing. "Alright, son." Bruce wasn't ready yet, but Alfred suspected that Wayne may never be ready. Bruce had created Batman as his way of preventing the world from suffering his own tragedy. It wasn't just a nightly chance for seeking revenge for the death of his parents, though Alfred knew that was part of it... had been all of it until Dick had come into their lives. The night Bruce had brought the terrified child home, Batman's crusade changed. From then on, he pulled on the cowl to protect others. "Batman failed," Bruce had whispered to Alfred in hospital. "How can Batman protect others when he couldn't even protect his own...?" He couldn't say the word. He hadn't used it enough at the time when he could and now... now his 'son' was gone.
The two men retired to the table to eat their meal. The flickering of the fire that had always seemed so warm and comforting did nothing but cast shadows over Wayne's heart.
Bruce sat in silence as Alfred continued to make conversation. Over the course of ten minutes, the butler noted that Wayne hadn't touched his plate of food.
"Bruce, you have to eat."
"I'm not hungry, Alfred."
"Bruce, you haven't eaten anything in days."
"More coffee?" Wayne asked, standing and moving off to the kitchen.
"Damn it, son. Don't brush me aside."
"I'm not... I am... I'm sorry." The words were so soft.
Alfred put his knife and fork down. It was like Bruce had given up on life. This was so much worse than the last time Wayne had lost someone he cared about. After Jason's death, Bruce had turned into an aggressive sonofabitch who sought refuge in pounding the life out of every miscreant that crossed his path. At least it had allowed Alfred to be angry with him. The anger had actually assisted Alfred with his own grief. It had given him something to focus on. This time, however, Wayne hadn't even looked at seeking solace through others. Bruce had been angry at first but then he had just given up - stopped caring. The millionaire was simply existing... no longer living. Of course, if he didn't start eating, the former would cease also. Perhaps unconsciously, that was what Bruce wanted.
Wayne stared out into the darkness beyond the window. The moon lit the small white cross. "I had him, Alfred." Bruce glanced down at his open hands for what was the millionth time in the dozen days since Dick had been stolen from him. "I had him but... the water was just too strong." The tough man's voice broke with emotion. He would never forget the look on Dick's face, nor the events that had led to the loss of the best man he had ever known...
PART TWO COMING SOON
© JuLY 2004 Aussie Nightwriter. : This relates only to the creative property in this story. The distinctive way the story unfolds, the specific dialogue and unique situations are mine. I acknowledge that some of the characters and settings belong to DC comics. (g) No infrigement of copyright was intended and no profit has been made from this story... so, please don't sue me. It wouldn't be worth your while.