In the Midnight Hour (7/7)
a Justice League story
by Merlin Missy
Summary: The clock always strikes midnight inside Bruce.
Above all else, he despises vulnerability in himself. So when Mongul's plant, and later Clark and Diana, coax from him the heart's desire that could have killed them all, he feels a great shame. He should have been stronger.
When Mordred sweeps across the world with his kingdom, and Bruce cannot fly, cannot fight, cannot keep up, he takes the only position he can. He leads the other three — four, counting Etrigan — into battle. And still he is ashamed.
The truth is something not even his closest associates know: for all intents and purposes, he has always been that eight year old wearing that tiny cowl.
The others in the League think they understand; his family from the Cave think they understand more. They dance around one another in their rare meetings, and Bruce wishes those encounters were more rare. Clark bullies his way through social situations the way he always does, with forced jolliness and what he has learned can be construed as an open smile, and so Bruce's family has been brought in to help plan for the construction of the new embassies on Earth.
Bruce is displeased.
Barbara and Tim have been wheedling him for a chance to work with the League, and if he is indeed spending more time in Gotham as he claims is his intent, that frees them to do so. Bruce can't deny that his family is more relaxed with the new associations: Barbara laughs more when she sees Kara almost every day, and Tim has managed to delight almost everyone he's met. Even Dick, distant these past few years, has forged an easy friendship with Wally, and for the first time in an age of the world, Bruce finds himself talking with Dick about things unrelated to the Mission
His hearing isn't like Clark's, but he has never let that stop him from knowing everything that is said around him. When Fire and Ice are chatting with Booster Gold, and all of them are amazed ("I never thought the Batkids would be so well-adjusted." "Yeah, they're so normal, you know, once you get past the weirdness.") he keeps his grim smile to himself and walks on.
The rest — save Clark and Diana, who've both made time to get to know Tim, because they half understand — expect anyone associated with Bruce, raised by Bruce, to be as distant (damaged) as he.
There's an intensity, certainly. No one else looks at a problem with Tim's focus. For all his glad smiles behind his mask, Dick has not revealed his name to anyone. Barbara is friendly, but reserves herself for times when she is alone with the boys and also with Kara. That she shoots daggers at Diana whenever possible is unsurprising and cannot be helped. Alfred has not been involved, save as a listening ear, for he has no mask and can too easily be identified; this has not stopped John from asking after him, nor Shayera from passing along a bottle of what, to someone with a different physiology, is probably a very good liquor.
Blending families isn't easy at the best of times. These are children and friends and lovers who do not all exist on the same plane, much less the same page. It is why Bruce has resisted this so long, and why he knows how useless his resistance has been.
They love him.
Wally and John would both protest the word, Clark would blush, Shayera would roll her eyes, J'onn would merely smile, and Diana ... Well, he has much to discuss with Diana. His family, his first family, they understand the truth without speaking. They're adept at not speaking that particular truth, which perhaps is why they need this new family as much as he does.
Bruce hates vegetable imagery, butthere is a truth to the notion of too much darkness choking the hardiest vines. He has clung to these new friends, this new family, even as he has pushed them to the limits of where he can bear to touch each. They have brought brightnesses into what was dark inside him, just as each member of his original family did so. Alone, forever, but there was Alfred's warm smile to ground him. Unmitigated darkness, and then Dick's laughter filled the Manor. Barbara, Tim, like a web, not trapping him but drawing him into the world and keeping him from falling entirely into his own circular thoughts.
And then Clark came into his life, the sun to Bruce's shadow, and he found a brother where he hadn't even wanted a friend. The rest surround them, and come between them, grey buffers between their black and white. He finds each grey has its own delightful depth and although he clearly remembers the time when the darkness was the only color he saw, he does not want to lose a single shade. If that means blending the lights and music of one family together with the garish colors of another, and this keeps him from the insanity he knows is never as far as he hopes, then so be it.
He loves them too, and it's maddening.
So he allows this new association, permits these friendships, independent of him and also reliant upon him, and he stands back and watches his children growing up among gods. He will never expel the darkness from his own soul but he does not have to doom them to wither inside there with him.
The midnight will ever be his. For the children he guards and the sake of the child he has never been (shall always be) he will allow them daybreak.
A/N: I kind of hate this story a lot. But it's done now. Yay.