Title: A Hero Now and Always
Author: DC Luder
Summary: Tragedy strikes without warning and Diana must find a way to cope.
Disclaimer: All recognizable characters belong to DC Comics, not DC Luder
Author's Note: While switching files from my old computer to my new one, I found this fic just hanging out in a long forgotten folder. And since I was asked to write this (at least I hope its turned out as desired ;) ) and since its been forever and a day since I've posted a BM/WW fic…
A/N 2: The Funny/Mortal lines between Diana and Bruce are those seen in JLA 70
A/N 3: For Curtis Anderson 1980-2000 "A hero now and always."
"Wishing you were
somehow here again,
knowing we must say goodbye!
Try to forgive, teach me to live!
Give me the strength to try!
more memories, no more silent tears!
No more gazing across the wasted years!
Help me say goodbye …
Help me say goodbye..."
Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again
Andrew Lloyd Weber's "The Phantom of the Opera"
His last words to me had been, "Please… I'm fine. Trust me, Diana."
I had. And I failed him because of it…
We had been sparring at the Watchtower, trying our best to out maneuver the other. I had been amazed to seem him on a Friday morning and even more surprised when he offered to spar with me. With a smile, I made a comment that his night of patrols must not have been too trying if he was willing to take me on. And as always, he hid his amusement, if any, with a slight scowl.
Not fifteen minutes into the exercise, a tone sounded on the overhead speakers, alerting us that we were needed in the monitor womb. J'onn, who had been watching the countless video feeds, scanners and news reports, had been standing at the console, hands moving fluidly from one control to the next. The various screens showed images of numerous buildings on fire, citizens running frantically for safety while dozens of emergency response vehicles headed towards the blazing buildings.
"J'onn, what's happened?" I asked as approached him.
With his attention remaining on the console, he replied, "There has been an assault on numerous buildings in Gotham… Police Headquarters, the city court house, as well as Blackgate and Arkham."
I glanced over at Batman suddenly to see his features stiffen slightly.
J'onn asked, "Batman, have you any idea as to those who are free---."
"Bane has been in hiding for a while now… And after what he did to Arkham before… and the fires during No Man's Land… I wouldn't put this past him." Although he kept his tone even while answering J'onn, I could see the anger in his eyes. It was hard to tell if it was from the attack on his city or if it was from him recalling his painful history.
Years earlier, I had been with Superman as we aimlessly flew one evening and as we neared Gotham, I had commented that it had always amazed me as to how well Batman faired against the dangers of his work. There was a quick change in Superman's features at my words, which forced me to ask if he had ever been seriously injured. It took a while for him to answer, and by the time he did, we were nearing Metropolis. He told me about how Bane had freed the inmates of the insane asylum, forcing Batman to run himself ragged in recapturing them all. And how after all he had endured, he then had to face Bane himself, a human with drug-induced near superhuman strength. And how Batman had lost that fight and ended up paralyzed, nearly dead. I couldn't imagine him in such a pained state, as I had always seen him in top condition, taking on opposing forces without a second thought.
I never wanted to see him any other way.
J'onn's voice interrupted my thoughts, "I've called in the rest of the League, they will meet us there shortly," he depressed one last button; of which activated the protective countermeasures of the Watchtower that would keep things in order until our return. The three of us then quickly navigated our way through the corridors to the teleportation bay. The closest destination would be the Bat-Cave. Although he kept it as a private domain, I figured it would be the least of his worries at this point.
Upon arriving in the Cave, Batman ran up to the computer console, entered a security code and waited as the massive screen displayed the image of the Oracle. She was already well aware of the situation and had contacted his protégés, Robin, Nightwing and Batgirl. In the past, I had seen Nightwing in action but had never worked with his young pupils but there was no doubt that they would be more than equal to the task.
J'onn and I made our way to the tier that held the computer console but as we neared him, Batman dashed to the costume vault and quickly switched his tunic and cowl for heavier protected versions. He then grabbed a different utility belt; one no doubt loaded with stronger grapples, cables and oxygen re-breathers. He emerged not a minute after he had entered the room and quickly headed towards the Batmobile. I was about to offer to carry him to the site but he had already jumped in and hit the ignition.
J'onn and I flew out after him and then took a higher elevation to avoid being spotted. Not wanting to waste any more time, I increased my speed, soaring past Batman on the ground and J'onn beside me. A heartbeat later, he matched his speed with mine and we remained silent as we flew towards Gotham City.
The heaviest of damage was sustained to the city court and buildings in the center of the city. As we approached the billowing smoke, J'onn's voice surfaced in my head, 'I will go to Arkham, see what needs to be done. You and Batman can handle things here.'
As he headed straight, I nose-dived towards the ground. Batman would be another ten minutes or so, leaving me alone to do what I could. The buildings themselves appeared to be structurally unsound, with multiple blast sites emitting flames and smoke. It seemed that hundreds were in the streets, abandoning the buildings, fighting the fires, directing chaotic traffic…
When I announced my presence a group of firefighters turned in shock to see me, but quickly seemed to be grateful. I asked where I was needed most and a tall fireman, his turnout gear ash covered and his face dark with soot looked up at the police headquarters, "Part of the main stairwell collapsed up in the higher floors… We estimate there's at least fifteen or twenty trapped up there. We had radio contact for a few minutes, no one is really injured but they need to get out as soon as possible… If the foundation and support beams give…"
I nodded and said I would handle it before adding, "The remainder of the Justice League will be here shortly."
As I flew off towards the burning building, I heard one of the younger firemen as he muttered, "Good thing Bats has good friends in high places."
If you only knew, I thought to myself. A flash of red down below made a slight smile cross my lips, Speaking of friends…
Leaving the Flash to handle things on the ground, I entered the smoking building, intently focused on the slightest cry for help or flare of flame. Navigating through a hazy hallway, I heard footsteps ahead, followed by hoarse coughs.
"Where are you?" I called out.
The strangled voices spoke up over the cacophony from below. I moved forwards a few yards and found a group of three men crouching next to a wall, covering their mouths with their ties. As they found me in the haze, I watched as the fear in their eyes quickly changed to joy.
Maneuvering back to the window in a small group, I paused at the open window I had entered through and told them to hang on tight. I wrapped an arm around the biggest of the men and then took the remaining two in a sure grip with my other arm. I made the flight to the ground as quick as possible without causing them any need for alarm.
Once we were on the ground, the three men slowly sat down just as the medics rushed in. No need to wait, I took off once more; aiming for the same window I had just come from. While entering, I heard Flash's voice over the telepathic link, 'Robin, Batgirl and I've helped move most of the people down here on the ground out of harm's way, gonna move on to clearing out the lower floors of the court house.'
'Good to hear. Any word from Batman?' I asked while moving past the wall that the trio of men had been huddling beside.
'Saw him pull up, then he disappeared. You know him and daylight, they don't mix.'
I was about to attempt to make contact with Batman himself when I came upon another small group of people. The smoke was not as thick and by looking around the corridor, I could see the gaping hole in the wall where the explosive had detonated, destroying a massive support beam as well as a large portion of the staircase.
One woman appeared from around the corner, leading a fairly large group in my direction. She cautioned them about the splintered wood and sharp glass that was strewn about the floor. At first, I was unsure if she had seen me, but then she turned and called out, "There's about twenty in this group, all cleared out from the next three floors."
Flying ahead after telling the woman, Renee as she introduced herself, how to get back to the window, I made an attempt to contact Batman, 'Batman, do you read me?'
He took a moment before replying, 'A bit busy, Princess.'
'What is your status?'
'Trying to save my city. You?'
I briefed him on how I had been removing those trapped on the upper floors of police headquarters and how we had the last main group ready to head out. When he didn't reply, I asked 'Is there any sign as to who is responsible?'
'I have a hunch… I'll meet you at the base of headquarters in five minutes.'
A hunch. That generally meant he knew who did it and already had planned out how he was going to take said person down. Painfully.
I then contacted Flash and told him to have medic personnel ready to take care of the twenty individuals who were on their way. He said that everyone on the lower levels had been cleared out and this would be the last of them.
It took several trips to get everyone to the ground. On the fourth trip up, Superman, who was oddly covered in dried mud, joined me and between the two of us we managed to make it the last trip. Once on the ground, I kept an eye out for Batman's dark figure and asked, "What took you so long?"
Superman smirked a bit, "Was tied up with a mudslide in California."
"Ah. Any word from J'onn?"
He nodded, "I checked in with him before coming here. We rebuilt the wall that was damaged and snagged the few inmates that did manage to escape. All are back in their cells and accounted for. He and Green Lantern are on their way over to Blackgate now."
I said softly, "Batman said he might have an idea as to who started all of this."
Before Superman could ask who, I heard a gravelly voice from behind me, "Did Commissioner Aikens come out with the last group?"
We both spun around to see Batman, standing a few feet away, already drawing out his grapple gun. I said I didn't know and then pointed out the people Superman and I had just brought down. He scanned the collection of people sitting on the pavement, and his scowl grew, "His office is on the top floor."
"I can get him," Superman offered.
He had just shifted his weight to take off in flight when an explosion erupted not a block away. While everyone was startled and jumped, Batman glanced down and growled, "It's a criminal law office… Prosecutors…"
"I'm not the detective here, but I'm starting to pick up on a theme," Superman said.
Batman looked over at him and asked, "And who hates me almost as much as he hates the criminal justice system?"
My eyes widened for two reasons. First, because I immediately knew the answer to Batman's question and secondly, because I saw the individual in question appear before our eyes in all his purple clad, helmet-wearing glory.
"I'll get the Commissioner," Batman stated as he fired the grapple towards police headquarters and finished as he began to ascend, "You handle him for the time being."
"Well, well, well, look at what we have here," Prometheus bellowed from down the street, "Doers of good, seekers of justice and all that bull. Hope you brought marshmallows, kids, because when I'm done, Gotham's gonna be one big bon fire."
He strode towards us, his cape flowing behind him, a grin plastered on his face. How many had he injured, even killed and he was smiling…
I lunged forward, flying at him as fast as I could. I rarely attacked with anger and as Prometheus' nightstick collided with my face, I remembered why. His gadgetry was from another world, granting him the ability to face superhumans such as Superman and myself with a nearly even playing ground.
I flew backwards, slamming into a light pole that bent awkwardly upon impact. Superman had already charged and was doing his best to gain the upper hand against Prometheus. I rushed forwards to help only to have Superman's body slammed into mine.
"When will you heroes learn?" I heard the villain sneer as he took out a small hand held remote from a compartment on his gauntlet, "I've got all sorts of bombs all over this city," he depressed a button and a faint explosion sounded from a few blocks away, "And the more you piss me off," another button and another explosion, ever further away, "The more innocents get turned into confetti."
He pressed another button; this time the explosion was much closer. Too close.
As the top floor of the Gotham City Police Headquarters erupted in flame, I looked up in horror, whispering, "Batman…"
"Oops. I was going to save that for---," Prometheus' rant was cut short as Superman leapt at him, driving him through the pavement into the sewer below the street. Certain he could handle things himself; I took off in Batman's direction, hoping that against all odds he had not been near the bomb.
"Batman!" I cried out as soon as I entered the building. The smoke was unbearably thick and I could hardly see beyond a foot in front of me. Moving down a narrow hall, I found myself in the tattered remains of an open office area, several desks over turned, their contents quickly succumbing to flames. Amidst all the noise from the fire trucks below, the rumbling building, the crackle of fire, I managed to hear a slight moan. I followed it to find a man dressed in a dark blue suit with a significant laceration over his brow. Not how I imagined meeting the commissioner of Batman's city…
"Commissioner Aikens, I'm going to get you out of here," I spoke loudly, hoping to grab his attention.
His head jerked slightly and his eyes flew open, "Wh-wh… happened?"
"There was an explosion on this floor…"
Aikens shook his head, "No… Batman was… rescuing me…"
I quickly removed his tie and wrapped it around his head, tightening it over the wound, "You've seen Batman?"
He nodded slowly as his eyes fluttered closed.
I stood and glanced about the room, searching for any sign of Batman. Finding none, I tried to contact him on the telepathic link to no avail.
Just as I was about to pick Aikens up, I heard a soft voice, mere feet behind me, "Diana?"
I crouched and moved towards his voice, still barely able to see, "Batman, where are you?" Reaching out with my hand, I felt the jagged end of a fallen steel beam, shards of glass and patches of busted drywall.
Then, the warm slickness of fresh blood.
"No," I whispered as I followed the trail of blood to a gloved arm.
The steel beam that had fallen had landed on him diagonally, weighing down on his torso, across the abdomen and his pelvis. The blood that had pooled under him had accumulated from a number of wounds, ranging from slight nicks to a leaking puncture in his abdomen. Despite the fact that it was a more protective suit, parts of it had been torn away in the blast, revealing abrasions and bruises alike. From the looks of them, they were over twelve hours old.
Maybe it hadn't been a quiet night, after all.
"Get-get Aikens out," he managed to growl.
"I can't leave you here."
"You can't take us both at once," he barked before wincing, his left hand involuntarily reaching towards the beam.
I grabbed onto it and pushed it off of him, revealing even more damage.
… I never wanted to see him any other way…
His left hand reached into the cracked utility belt and retrieved a thick pad of gauze. As he pressed it to the belly wound, he glared at me, "Diana, go. I'll be here when you get back."
Still kneeling beside him, I couldn't look away. I didn't want to leave him. I couldn't.
He looked up at me again. This time, I noticed that the left lens of his cowl had shattered, revealing a bloodshot blue eye, "I'm not going anywhere until---," he drew a sharp breath, "Until Aikens is on the ground..." he offered what seemed to be a smirk.
I managed to nod before standing and returning to Aikens' side. I scooped him up in my arms and flew towards the window and then to the ground, careful as to not disturb the semi-conscious man too much. Upon landing, I searched for Prometheus or Superman or Flash but saw none of them. Perhaps they had directed their fight to a safer and less populated area.
After I helped situate the commissioner onto a gurney, I took off back towards the top floor and quickly made my way back to Batman. The thick pad he had pressed to his abdomen had soaked through already and the pool of blood that surrounded him had grown considerably. I noticed his eyes were partially closed and that the hand on his side had grown limp. I had only been gone for a few minutes, how could he have deteriorated so rapidly?
"Batman, I need to get you out of here," I said, my voice sounding as that of a stranger.
I set my hand on his and his eyes fluttered briefly, searching for me. With my other hand, I touched his face, shocked at how cold his skin was.
As gently as possible, I hooked an arm under his shoulders and another under his legs. The second I lifted, he cried out in pain and I quickly set him back down, "What is it, what's wrong?"
The left hand limply draped over his stomach moved to touch his hip. Event that slight of pressure caused him to wince again, it was no wonder what my lifting him did. Perhaps the beam had broken his pelvis, of which would be excruciatingly painful when he was moved.
"Just hold on, I will try to go as fast as I can. Ready?"
It was hard to tell if he voluntarily nodded or if it had just been his head lolling.
I prayed it was a nod.
Lifting him once more, I felt his body tense immediately. I flew blindly, trusting my memory of entering to guide our way out. I was about to head down to the medics on the ground when I felt his hand weakly grip my arm, "No…"
"No what? You need to get to a hospital."
He then said, "Oracle?"
I was about to ask why he wanted Oracle when I realized he must be trying to contact her over their communication link. A moment later, he continued, "Tell them… The Clinic."
Batman looked at me and pointed east. He gave a few more vague directions, only a few verbally. The impressive buildings of downtown gave way to shabby apartments and crumbling warehouses. As we moved over a plain three story brick building, he said, "Here."
I landed in the seclusion of the rear parking area and approached a white steel door. Before I could ask him what he wanted me to do, the door opened from the inside, revealing a small, older woman wearing a long white coat and a worried look on her face.
"Bring him in, quickly," she said quietly but with enough authority to make me move out of my shocked stance. Did this woman not know who I was? Or did she know who Batman really was? Did she even care?
She led the way through a bright corridor and turned right into a medical examination room. After I set him down, Batman looked up at me as if he were going to speak but then his eyes shifted to the woman, "Leslie I've---."
"… Gone and gotten yourself in over your head. Nothing new," she interrupted him as she went about removing the torn tunic and gloves, leaving the cowl firmly in place.
I was standing in the open doorway, uncertain as to what I should do. Leave him in the care of this doctor and help bring down Prometheus or stay and help, do whatever I can to make sure he's all right. My thoughts were interrupted when a younger woman in nurse scrubs entered the room, "Excuse me---," she said quietly, pushing past me.
"Marcy, get some warm saline, pull out the O Neg, four liters, I'll put the central line in," the older woman said, her voice still exuding control and order. The younger woman, a nurse I assumed, however was less sure of herself as her eyes locked onto the paling form on the gurney. It took a moment of blinking for her to turn and leave the room.
Still remaining stationary, I found myself looking at his masked face. Eyes closed, a grimace of pain had taken over his features and I wondered if it was better for him to suffer or if it would be worse to not have any feeling at all.
"Do you need to get back to… whatever is going on downtown?" Leslie asked suddenly as she lowered the setting on the gurney so that his head was reclined lower than his torso.
"I… I'm not sure."
She quickly injected a clear liquid to the skin around his collarbone, sterilized the same area and retrieved a large needle with a small plastic insert complete with an injection top and a small switch to close off the connection. The woman then inserted the needle into his flesh, pointing downwards just under the collarbone. Once through, she attached a plastic tube to the end of the device upon removing the needle.
There must have been a confused look on my face for when she glanced up at me before applying sterile gauze over the needle she said, "We'll need it to push fluids into him and for blood transfusions."
"Transfusions, for what?" I asked.
"He's most likely ruptured his spleen, which would account for the blood loss, and there's no doubt he has a whole score of other internal injuries, but we need to get his blood volume and pressure back up," she explained as she raised the head of the gurney back to a horizontal position.
Before I could respond, the young woman, Marcy, had returned with several bags of fluids, four of them blood. She hung them and attached the central line tubing as directed by the older woman who then added, "Get the portable x-ray in here and the ultrasound."
"Okay, Leslie, I'll be right back," she replied, quickly leaving once more.
Feeling useless, I offered assistance, "I'm not trained in medicine, but if there's anything I can do…"
Leslie had begun to assess his lower abdomen for tenderness, pressing her fingertips over bruised skin and broken tissue. She glanced over her shoulder at me, "There's not much even I can do, I'm afraid. Oracle said that there was some sort of explosion?"
"Yes, he'd gone back in to save Commissioner Aikens before we had a chance to clear the building for anymore explosives."
She shook her head but there was a slight amusement in her voice, "Sounds like something you would do."
My eyes shot to his face to see his eyes barely open. Keeping out of the doctor's way, I walked to the other side of the gurney and stood beside him. His head rolled slowly in my direction and he forced a breath before saying, "Go back."
"I can't leave you here."
He smirked softly, "Didn't we already… have this fight?"
"With you, it's always the same fight," I replied.
His breath caught in his throat, making him cough. Leslie looked up from her palpating to say, "I assume that hurts."
Nodding, he looked back at me, "You don't need to stay."
I paused before admitting, "I want to."
"I don't care what you want."
I smiled at him, "Like that's something new."
"F-funny. I forgot you could be funny."
My eyes widened as I recognized his words. Looking down at him, I realized how very similar the situation at hand was with the one he had first uttered that sentence. He had been near death following the time travel Tempest had sent us on. The rest of the League had managed to beat the illness but for some reason, his condition only worsened. Some reason, I thought to myself, no there was an exact reason why…
I took his hand into mine suddenly, "Then we're even because there are times I forget you are human, Bruce."
He did his best to smile but his face was caught in a grimace of pain and I felt his hand on mine squeeze tightly. When he was able to relax, he locked eyes with me, "Please… I'm fine. Trust me, Diana."
And I did.
I left him and returned to downtown Gotham only to find the tattered remains of several buildings with firefighters doing their best to fight the blazes. I met up with Superman, J'onn and Flash and found out that Prometheus had once more, evaded capture. Thankfully there had only been fifteen reported deaths, hundreds of injuries. In my absence they had set up an emergency shelter at a local school, using the gym to house the shocked and injured and were in the midst of clearing out the remaining buildings. I joined the efforts and for the better part of two hours, helped rescue the remaining trapped innocents.
I only had more bad news to offer to the group as I informed them of Batman's injuries. That only seemed to make Superman even angrier for his failure to bring down Prometheus. When I asked about the others, Nightwing, Robin and Batgirl, they said that they had left to the clinic where Batman was, no doubt to stand outside his room and wait for a chance to see him.
J'onn suggested we go as well and prepared telepathic disguises in order to protect our identities, especially Superman's. Although Clark Kent was a top investigative reporter, he didn't need to be seen at the same possible location as the Batman.
We flew back at a leisure pace, silent despite the chaotic thoughts we all no doubt had. Upon arriving at the clinic, I spotted three similar motorcycles in the parking area that hadn't been there before.
They were still there.
Disguised to all others of our normal forms, we slipped through the back door and I lead them to the room that I had brought Bruce to not two hours earlier. I reached for the handle and was surprised when it wouldn't turn. I was about to knock only to have the door pulled open from the inside.
I looked into a pair of glassy, blue eyes, hidden behind a black mask and unruly bangs. Nightwing, his oldest protégé, the one he considered to be his son, stood in the half-opened doorway, looking at us as if we were strangers. J'onn had not made the disguise block for him, though. He should have been able to see us.
Superman stepped forward, "Dick…"
He looked back into the room and then stepped into the hall. He led us a few yards away and then into an empty waiting room. Before I could ask how he was doing, Nightwing turned away and removed his mask, wiping his eyes with the back of his gloved hand, "He went into cardiac arrhythmia while they were removing his spleen. They'd tied off the arteries, were almost done and he just… They, uh… they worked on him for over forty minutes. Even cracked his chest open to shock his heart directly. Every liter of blood they put in just came right back out," he turned and faced us, the tears flowing freely over his cheeks, "Leslie said that even if she could have gotten his heart beating again that the damage to his brain from oxygen deprivation would have been… Would have been…"
Superman stepped forward, wrapping his arms around the young man, who at that very instant seemed like a very lost boy. Watching him sob uncontrollably, my brain slowly translated his words to my heart.
Bruce was dead.
The next morning, a number of national news stations and newspapers covered the tragic assault on Gotham City. The total number of deaths had been twenty-six and the total number of wounded had been two hundred and seventy. The Justice League's appearance and efforts were also noted as well as those by Batman. Commissioner Aikens, who had been interviewed from his hospital room, said that he was sincerely grateful for the help offered by the League and by Batman and his "apprentices". He added that Batman and Wonder Woman personally rescued him.
I was at the Watchtower, reading the Gotham Gazette, my tea long since turned cold.
The front page had been dominated with photographs of the devastation and the rescue efforts. Even with all that had happened, his picture still made the bottom half of the front page next to the headline: Billionaire Bruce Wayne Killed in Terrorist Attacks!
It was no doubt an archive picture, one of many I was sure, of Bruce in a suit with a care-free smile on his face. I had read the article so many times that I had it practically memorized. The cover story was that he had been going to visit a former girlfriend at the Distract Attorney's office and had been killed in one of the three explosions that went off in that building. He had been found alive on the scene by myself and been rushed to the emergency services of family friend, Dr. Leslie Thompkins, who had not agreed to comment. Among his numerous injuries, he suffered from multiple fractures to the pelvis and femur and numerous broken ribs, a severe concussion, massive internal damage and bleeding including a ruptured spleen and severe contusions of the liver, stomach and kidneys. Valiant efforts to save his life proved futile and he was declared dead at ten after eleven in the morning. In lieu of flowers, donations could be sent to a number of charitable organizations, most of them revolving around children and domestic violence. Calling hours were to be Monday from four until nine in the evening with a private burial at Wayne Manor Tuesday morning…
The day before, after Nightwing had told us about… he said that it had happened shortly before they had arrived. Bruce had already slipped into unconsciousness because of the shock from blood loss, of which meant it had been painless. Then again he had suffered until then…
We were then offered the opportunity to see him.
I had been torn between seeing that it for myself, that Batman, Bruce was dead and from flying as far and as fast as I could away from that terrible city.
J'onn and Superman had followed Nightwing across the hall and into the room I had carried Batman into. I lagged behind, still undecided whether to stay or flee. Robin and Batgirl were no longer there and there was no sign of the doctor or her assistant. Superman and J'onn exited moments later, both solemn-faced. J'onn looked at me and nodded before stepping to the side as if to gesture me in. I had glanced quickly only to see life support machines that no longer served a purpose for the man laying on the gurney.
Nightwing, still unmasked, was sitting on a stool next to the gurney, his hands holding onto Bruce's. I slowly walked in, trying to keep my eyes on Nightwing's face and not…
Leslie had removed his cowl and washed his face clean of blood. Bruises mottled his brow left temple and a laceration on his right cheek had been sutured. His skin had yet to take on pallor and he looked as if he were sleeping.
Nightwing reached up and brushed back a lock of hair on Bruce's face. He bit his lip before saying, "Just got a haircut."
I had done my best to smile as I approached the bed. He had been covered with a gray sheet up to his chest, revealing even more sutured wounds and bruises. The IV and central line had been removed as had the various vital recording sensors.
I had looked up at his protégé just as he spoke, "He called me the other day. Said he wanted to talk. Have dinner last night. I wanted to but I had to work, so I said I would drop by… tonight."
I let out a shaky breath before saying, "Nightwing, I'm…"
I nodded, "Dick, I'm… sorry."
Nightwing had then leaned forward and kissed Bruce's brow before standing and letting go of his hand. He glanced at me once more before leaving the room.
…Trust me, Diana…
Damn you, Bruce.
…. Trust me…
I looked up to see Superman entering the commissary. He had been putting on a brave front since… Trying to comfort others and never allowing himself to falter. I on the other hand and drawn up inside, burying my grief, guilt and anger deep within me. And just as I had sensed his pain, there was no doubt that he could sense mine. He slowly sat in the chair beside me, eyeing my tea.
"I guess I wasn't thirsty."
We were silent for a long while, filling the time by avoiding each other's glances and sighing. Eventually, he broke the silence, "Just got back from Gotham City."
He nodded and sat back in the chair, "Dick's holding up pretty well. Alfred's been trying to get him to sleep or at least eat but… I guess there's too much of his father's spirit in him."
I tried to smile, but in fear of my lower lip trembling, I held it tightly between my teeth. Letting my eye fall to the newspaper once more, they locked onto Bruce's picture. In the time I had known him, I could count the time he had smiled on one hand. And yet, there he was, grinning, his eyes full of life. My mind flashed back to his dead face… so peaceful…
The little I could see of the background had numerous heads, tops of tuxedos and glamorous dresses. No doubt one of the countless charity balls he attended in his city, right before donning the cowl. He donated millions by day, but the effort at night that he put into his city had cost him much more…
A drop of water splashed onto the newspaper, landing directly on the picture. After a second drop fell, I realized that I was crying. Wiping my cheek, I saw Superman lean forward, "Diana…"
"I'm fine," I managed as I dabbed at the newspaper with a napkin. I pressed too hard and smudged the image, destroying Bruce's face.
… Please… I'm fine. Trust me, Diana…
I didn't know if it was the sheer exhaustion or the aching in my heart, but I couldn't hold back any longer. I leaned forward, sobs wracking my body, tears flowing freely down my cheeks. Superman moved to my side in an instant, kneeling beside me before wrapping his arms around my shoulders. I turned towards him, burying my face into his neck. I was a warrior. A princess. I was supposed to be stronger than this. I had seen allies and friends fall before and held my ground against the daunting grief.
But for some reason, I couldn't focus on anything but his face.
My mind raced with thoughts of what his life might have been had he not fallen victim to Prometheus. How many more years would he have fought his war on crime? Would he have retired or gone down in the line of duty a few years down the road? How many lives had he saved over the years and how many would not be because he was gone?
"He's gone..." I mumbled through the sobs.
He rubbed my back gently and whispered in my ear, "Shh, Diana, it's all right."
I shook my head and pushed away from him, "No it's not! It should have been me, I should have gone in instead of---."
Superman put his hands on my arms, locking his eyes with mine. For the first time, I saw the pain there. Hera, what had Bruce's death done to him?
"Diana, listen to me. There was no way of knowing that… If you had gone after the commissioner and he had faced off with Prometheus, there is no doubt he would have suffered a similar fate."
"It should have been me," was all I could manage before collapsing into his arms once more.
I didn't go to his calling hours.
Staying at the Watchtower, I spent the entire weekend avoiding everyone and doing my best to block out Bruce's voice from echoing in my ears. I filled the time by tormenting myself in the training room, staring out the window in my quarters and doing anything I could to avoid sleep.
After speaking with Superman Saturday morning, I had gone to my quarters in hopes that sleep would help. Unfortunately, every time I closed my eyes I saw him. Alive and well, fighting by my side. Bleeding and in pain. Dead and gone. My dreams combined these images, making my sleep restless and painful.
The morning of his funeral, I was sitting in bed aimlessly staring when there was a knock at my door. I pulled my robe on and slowly walked across the room towards the entrance. Before I could look to see who it was, I felt J'onn's presence in my mind, and then heard his voice, 'It's me, Diana.'
I opened the door and let him in. He had taken on his human form and was dressed in a dark suit, slate blue shirt and gray tie. I had not dressed or showered in over seventy-two hours. He didn't seem to notice.
"There is going to be a private service before the burial. For those who would wish to attend."
"I take it you are going."
He nodded slowly.
I answered his unasked question, "I can't J'onn."
"What?" Turning away from him, I walked back towards my bed. He followed slowly, his steps barely making a noise on the floor. After I sat, he paused, a foot away from me, "Diana, it may sound… cliché, but I don't need to be a psychic to see what's wrong."
"And what's wrong, J'onn?" I asked as I looked over my shoulder at him.
"You don't want to let him go."
"Let him go, J'onn, he's dead. I know, I understand it and I accept it."
He shook his head, "That is not what I meant. Accepting that a loved one has passed on it entirely separate from letting them go."
A loved one. Three simple words and they couldn't have been truer. I had respected Bruce and on some level, had even loved him. We had toyed with the idea of a relationship before, but our lives were far too different for it to have ever worked.
Day and night. A knight and his princess…
I realized I was staring at J'onn and quickly turned to face the window. He spoke quietly, "I'll be waiting by the teleporter," and then left me alone.
… Trust me, Diana…
Twenty minutes later, I entered the teleporting chamber and saw that J'onn stood alone. I was about to ask where the other were but J'onn spoke first, "They have already left."
We stepped into the teleporter and moment later we stood in the Bat-Cave. I looked around to see only the basic running lights were on. The Batmobile he had driven to Gotham only days earlier had been brought back, causing me to wonder who had driven it back. Had it been Nightwing? Robin or Batgirl? Alfred even? The threat of my tormenting thoughts was overwhelming and I averted my gaze to the left only to see the costume vault. Was the suit he had worn in there? Were they going to put up a glass case to house it in, set it beside that of Jason Todd's?
"Diana?" J'onn asked quietly but it seemed defeaning in the silence of the Cave. It was then I realized how quiet it was. Not even the fluttering of bat wings let alone their once ever-constant shrieks.
I had to get out of there.
I raced up the granite steps; unsure as to why I was running instead of flying. As my heels clicked loudly, echoing into the recesses of the cavern, I realized that he had never come back up the stairs…
Alfred was at the entrance into the Manor, no doubt having been alerted by some way that we had arrived. Despite the fact that the man he had raised had just died, he looked to be the same old Alfred. But when he tried to smile, I noticed how forced it was. The pain in his eyes.
The same as what I had seen in Superman's.
"Ms. Diana," he greeted me, his voice weak and quiet.
I reached out and took his hand into mine, "Alfred."
"It is so good to see again."
I squeezed his gently, "How are you?"
"As well as can be expected. Everyone has gathered in the main hall. I'll show you the way." He about faced and led us through the various corridors, navigating with incredible ease. The night Bruce had stood me up for our Sunday night dinner so long ago, I had spent the evening with Alfred, touring the house and the grounds, listening to stories of Bruce's childhood, both before and after he lost his parents. I had even had the pleasure of learning more about Alfred himself, his life before moving to Gotham to take up his father's role. I had asked him if he regretted giving everything up, and he smiled gently before replying, "Ms. Diana… I have no doubt that had I stayed in England, I would have had a full life. But it would not have been nearly fulfilling as the one I have had the privilege of leading, here in this house."
The main hall, as I recalled, was a cavernous room that could easily accommodate the training room from the Watchtower. Designed for social functions, Alfred had told me that it housed several annual Wayne Enterprises functions, from banquets to balls.
Was the picture of him in the paper taken in the main hall?
The massive double doors were already opened and Alfred stepped to the side and let us enter before him. I glanced over at him as I passed to see the forced smile had lost its battle with the solemn frown.
The private service must have started much earlier for there was less than a dozen people in the room. I spotted several members of the League as well as those that belonged to the Bat Clan. They mingled about the room that had been cleared of all furniture. Glancing to the left, I spotted a small group of very familiar faces.
Clark stood next to his wife, Lois, and was talking with Dick Grayson and a wheel chair bound auburn haired woman. J'onn's hand touched my elbow and his voice filled my mind, 'The Oracle. Barbara Gordon.'
…Oracle… Tell them… The Clinic…
We crossed the room, offering slight nods and somber greetings as we approached the small group. I was about to reach out for Dick's hand when my eye caught out something black and shiny.
Flash… No, Wally stood with a young, dark-haired man beside a glossy, ebony coffin. Their position kept me from seeing if the casket was opened or closed and I strained to see around them. The need to know coming before anything else, even greeting his fatherless son. Wally stepped aside and I was somewhat relieved to see the casket was securely closed. Then a wave of guilt washed over me for not being strong enough to see his face once more.
I looked back to see Clark's worried face. I forced a smile and said, "I'm fine."
…I'm fine. Trust me, Diana…
He nodded and pulled me aside, "I know. Everyone's heading out now."
I looked about the room, confused to see that it had practically emptied out. My eyes returned to the coffin to see that five men stood at its side: Dick Grayson, the second Robin, the one I had never learned the true identity of, an older, gray haired man with a moustache who looked oddly familiar, an older black man sporting a bow tie, and then the only other familiar face, Wally.
Clark touched my shoulder and then joined the small group. I watched on as they arranged themselves before lifting the casket off of the stand and onto their shoulders. Entranced once more, I was distracted when I felt another hand touch my arm. When I looked I saw that it was Barbara. The Oracle.
I followed her and Lois out the door and towards a pair of open doors at the end of the corridor that lead to the side yard. Despite the breeze, the air was remarkably warm. It suddenly seemed odd that the sun was shining and the sky was clear. Such a dark day and yet it was so beautiful. I followed them up a narrow stone path that snaked its way up a slight slope. As I looked to the top of the rise, I spotted the small cluster of people that had been inside just moments earlier.
The burial service was nothing like I had expected. A few more faces that I hadn't seen earlier, including that of a teary eyed Leslie Thompkins. Beside her was a tall, raven-haired woman whose green eyes were rimmed with red. Looking more closely, I recognized her as the Catwoman and was perplexed as to why she was there. I heard enough rumors about her romantic interest and involvement with Batman but had never had the courage to ask him. The courage to learn the truth…
Moving closer, I read the faint inscriptions on the few tombstones that sat in the trimmed grass. My eyes fell over the names of Thomas and Martha Wayne and I couldn't help but think of the massive oil portrait that hung in his study. Their eyes always watching him.
There was no clergy present to offer last rites. Instead, the coffin was placed on the rack that would lower the body of Bruce Wayne to its final resting place. It seemed surreal, no flowers, no eulogies, just the burial. Perhaps that had been what he had wanted. The group that had carried the casket out stepped back, with exception of Dick… the pallbearers, I admitted to myself.
Standing alone, he apprised the small group before saying, "Bruce had a favorite passage from Walt Whitman… 'O Captain! My Captain!'… A tragic piece, but then again that's maybe why he was so fond of it. If you'll bear with me, I'd like to read it. For him."
He sighed as he reached into his pants pocket, retrieving a folded piece of paper. When it was in his hands, I noticed it trembled slightly.
"O Captain! My Captain! Our fearful trip is done. The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won. The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting; while follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring. But O heart! Heart! Heart! O the bleeding drops of red, where on the deck my Captain lies, fallen cold and dead."
The paper trembled again as Dick drew a long breath. When he continued, his voice was weaker, lighter, "O Captain! My Captain! Rise up and hear the bells. Rise up—for you the flag is hung—for you the bugle trills. For you the bouquets and ribbon'd wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding. For you they call the swaying mass, their eager faces turning. Here Captain! Dear father…" his voice quivered, "This arm beneath your head, it is some dream that on the deck, you've fallen cold and dead."
There was a long pause and I wondered if he was going to read the third and perhaps most saddening verse. I watched as he fought tears, his eyes no longer looking at the sheet of paper but at the glimmering casket before him.
"My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still. My… My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse or will. The ship is anchor'd safe and sound, its voyage closed and done. From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won. Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells… but with mournful tread, walk the deck my Captain lies…" the tears falling freely over his cheeks, dripping from his chin, he finished in a whisper, "Fallen cold and dead."
Without warning, his legs gave way and we all watched in entranced horror as he fell to the ground, landing on his knees. Barbara moved towards him quickly as did Alfred, both grabbing at his arms to keep him kneeling. Clark, taking his arm from around his wife's shoulders, stepped forward as well. He whispered into Dick's ear, squeezed the young man's shoulder and then helped him to his feet. He then began to guide Dick away but he pushed Clark's hand off of him and turned back to the casket.
My knees felt weak as well but I managed to keep upright. I stood for what must have been an eternity, watching as mourners approached the casket, letting their fingers dance across its smooth surface before leaving, traveling down the slope with slow, languid steps. The green-eyed woman was one of the last to leave. She kissed a white rose and gently set it on the casket before speaking softly. She then approached Dick, who was still standing beside Alfred and Barbara.
Without a word, he wrapped his arms around her back and she circled her arms around his neck. I watched on as they held each other, comforting one another without saying a word. She then kissed his cheek before turning and embracing Alfred, whose face had grown more somber and drawn out than earlier. I looked down at my feet, unsure as to whether it was right of me to watch his former lover or whatever she had been to him, in such pain. When I caught a faint whiff of perfume, I looked up just as she walked by me, her mascara and eye shadow smudged from tears. Even in such a state, she was beautiful.
My reflection that morning had been anything but beautiful. Swollen eyelids, my features worn and tired. No doubt that's how Bruce had woken every morning after a long night of endless patrols…
Soon, he would be able to rest in peace beside his parents.
I looked to see that the numbers had dwindled to Dick, Barbara, Clark, Lois, Alfred, myself and the older man with the moustache. He stood beside Barbara, resting a hand her slender shoulder. Watching on silently, I finally put a name to his face. The former commissioner of Gotham City, the one that had worked alongside Batman for his entire existence and her father, James Gordon. He had known the secret, the face behind the mask?
So many questions, I thought to myself, ones that he could never answer.
I watched as they too left, heading down the stone path towards the drive. Barbara had kissed Dick's hand, told him to call her later. Gordon had offered him a weak hug and then soft looks to the rest of us.
Not long after, Alfred said he had a few things to tend to and left for the Manor. Lois kissed Clark's cheek and said she would be up with Alfred when he was ready to go.
And then there were three…
In the long weekend I had spent in near solitude, I had overheard rumors of Dick taking up the mantle, at least for a short while as to disassociate his death with the disappearance of Batman. He had done so before, and would no doubt do so again.
"Trinity," Dick whispered softly.
Clark and I glanced over at him at the same time. His eyes were still locked onto the casket; his once trembling hand had crumbled the paper in his fist. After a long moment, he looked up, first at Clark then at me, "The trinity. The big three. Superman, Wonder Woman and… Batman."
I watched as he carefully smoothed out the paper and folded it in half. He seemed relaxed, his features much calmer than earlier. Dick took an unsteady step forward, slowly closing the distance between himself and his destination. He lifted the stem of the rose and slipped the paper underneath before setting it back down.
"Give 'em hell, Bruce," he smirked before turning to follow Alfred and Lois, never looking back at us.
Clark closed the small space that was between us, his eyes following Dick closely. When he had entered the house and was out of sight, Clark's gaze fell to my face. He wouldn't force me to leave but the look on his face was encouraging it. And he was right; there was no reason to drag it out. Saying good-bye.
I left Clark standing alone and walked forward, stopping with mere inches between myself and the casket. I kissed my fingertips gently before setting them on the glassy surface. In a whisper, I said, "I trust you, Bruce… To watch over us. To question us. And to look out for us."
I managed a smile, thinking of his brooding presence, of him lurking in the shadows. Suddenly the self-doubt, the pity and anger I had been drowning in lightened ever so slightly. J'onn was right, letting him go was far different than accepting his death. Accepting the fact that he was gone from this world had been painful and grievous. Letting him go was the near opposite, tranquil and heartening.
As my smile grew, my voice returned, "After all, that's what a hero does. And you are a hero. Now and always."