The Long and Winding Road
DISCLAIMER: Still don't own 'em, DC Comics does, I wish I had them, blah, blah, blah… well, okay, DC Comics doesn't own the Beatles, which is where I got the name of this piece, but you know what I mean. And I don't own the BEATLES, EITHER! XP
Okay, okay, sorry for taking so long. I had some trouble with this one. I hope it isn't too bad... if it is, please tell me nicely, and killing the author is illegal, so... don't do it, 'kay?
Back at the hospital. That was one place I never expected to see the inside of again. Yet there we sat, waiting. It was excruciating.
As things turned out, Bruce hadn't been killed after all—that was just my stupid, overactive emotions jumping to wrong conclusions. He sure had looked dead, though.
I shivered involuntarily, recalling that moment… the shot, June's cruel laughter, and then my own hands squeezing, squeezing the life out of her. Once I had calmed down a little, Alfred had taken me back to the house and just let me be for a while. For that, I was grateful. I wanted to be alone with the only thought that kept flashing uncontrollably across my mind—Bruce is dead, Bruce is dead, Bruce is dead…
I must have cried myself to sleep, and when I woke up, Alfred was sitting there watching over me.
For one moment, I had forgotten. For one glorious moment, I thought it was an ordinary school day and that Alfred was there to make sure I woke up and was there on time.
Then it all came flooding back to me so fast… too fast.
"She killed him, Alfred," I had whispered, just barely holding back fresh tears. "She killed him!"
"No one was killed, Master Dick."
Wait a minute.
"I assure you, Master Bruce is very much alive. Yes, he was wounded, but believe me—he will live."
And Alfred went on to explain to me how June had escaped from the officers not long after we had gone home. The police followed her trail to our beach house, where Bruce's horse had ended up after being scared off by the shot. They followed his hoof prints and were shocked and horrified to find an unconscious Bruce on the ground and a crazed Dick trying to strangle June. They instantly took the man to the hospital, and then attended to the boy.
"And, if I am not mistaken," Alfred finished up with a reassuring smile, "they are treating him as we speak."
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Bruce was alive! Miracle!
For the next few seconds, I was totally speechless. And, as anyone will tell you, that is an exceptionally rare thing for this teenager. But if you had just thought someone was dead, then found out they were alive, you'd be pretty speechless, too!
"He's… alive? Are you sure?" I questioned shakily, not wanting to get my hopes up too high.
Alfred smiled at me and put a hand on my shoulder.
"Yes, Master Dick. I am very sure. And if you wish, I shall drive you to the hospital to see him yourself. After you have had something to eat."
"None of that now," he scolded me gently. "I have some hot soup waiting for you downstairs. If you will just come with me…"
As impatient as I was to just see Bruce, I knew that I'd never get out of the house alive unless I did absolutely everything that Alfred told me to. So I obeyed, albeit reluctantly, and we were soon on our way back to the hospital.
And there we were, two hours later, still waiting for admittance. It was driving me batty—pardon the pun. It's a habit of mine. It annoys everybody I know, too, especially Bruce…
Bruce… when WERE we going to be able to see him, anyway?
I stood up and began pacing. Millions of thoughts crowded themselves into my mind, all commanding my immediate attention.
After ten minutes of this pacing, Alfred said in a slightly aggravated tone, "Please sit down, Master Dick, this is not a maternity ward."
I took my seat but remained silent, still lost in my own thoughts.
"You've got to have a little patience, young master."
"Me? Patience? I thought you knew me better than that."
Alfred was about to say something sarcastic right back at me, and he always won battles that involved sarcasm. So I was especially happy when a nurse showed up and called us over to her.
"How is he? Can we see him now?" I asked anxiously.
"Well, you can see him, but I'm afraid he won't be able to see you."
The bottom dropped out of my stomach. My insides twisted uncomfortably. I definitely did not like the sound of this. I didn't really want to ask what she meant by that, but I knew I had to. So I did.
"I'm afraid," the nurse began. I always hate sentences that start like that. "That the bullet really messed up Mr. Wayne's optic nerves. Now…"
She seemed hesitant to continue, but I had already figured out what I didn't want to know.
"He's blind, isn't he?" I said stonily.
The nurse nodded mutely.
Alfred looked at me as if he was making sure that I wouldn't go crazy like on the beach and try to strangle the nurse or something.
But I didn't. I didn't even cry or scream like I had before. For some reason, I couldn't do those things, even though I wanted to.
I asked what room he was in. She told me and I headed towards the elevator without even changing expression. I felt numb all over, and couldn't help but wonder if this was the way Bruce felt every time he didn't want the world to know what he was thinking (which was quite often).
I stepped into the elevator and pressed the button. The door shut and we began to move.
Silence reigned until the elevator stopped and the doors opened. Even then, it was very quiet. Hospitals usually are.
I led the way down the corridor. That nurse had said that Bruce was in room 565. So I started counting the odd-numbered rooms.
"Are you sure you're alright, Master Dick?"
"Of course. Why shouldn't I be?" I responded curtly. I knew that Alfred was just worried about my lack of an emotional reaction and that I shouldn't have been so rude, but recent events had really left me with a really short temper. Not that my temper wasn't short in the first place.
This was it.
"I'll be waiting right here for you, Master Dick."
"You mean you're not going in with me?"
"I think you should be alone with him for a while, sir."
I was suddenly very nervous. All the way up to the room, I had seriously expected the trustworthy Alfred to be with me every minute. The thought that he'd actually let me go in on my own hadn't even occurred to me!
Ever so slowly, I nudged the door open and stepped inside. Alfred shut it behind me. Without the light from the corridor, it was almost completely dark in the large room. Only the cracks between the blinds offered light, and even then, not very much of it. Everything there seemed to have been painted various shades of gray and black.
"Come in, Dick."
I jumped a little at the sound, my heart pounding rapidly in my throat. It was Bruce's voice; I'd know it anywhere.
"How did you—?"
"The nurse told me you'd be up soon."
Pause. I suddenly felt very, very sick. I didn't know how Bruce felt about all this yet. Although I was pretty good at figuring out what he was thinking, I couldn't tell anything from just a voice in the dark.
"You can come closer, you know."
"Oh," I said again. It was as if all of my memory banks had been erased except for that one word.
I don't know what the heck I was scared of. This was Bruce, for crying out loud. I knew him; he was still the same guy. There was nothing to be frightened of.
However, despite the lack of logic in my fears, I hadn't been so nervous in a long time. But I knew better than to disobey Bruce. If I did, then I'd have a good reason to be nervous. A really good reason.
I approached the bed, trembling from head to toe, not quite knowing what to expect.
It wasn't as bad as it could have been, though. It wasn't like his face was horribly disfigured or any of that. He looked almost exactly the same, actually. The only differences were a whitish bandage wrapped around his head, and the fact that he wasn't looking at me at all. He wasn't looking at anything. Just… staring.
I suddenly realized what I had been so nervous about: facing the truth.
"You're scared, aren't you?"
Wonderful. I had known that animals could smell fear, but people! I did not need this.
Rather ridiculous conversation, really, but we were both still really uncomfortable with this. We didn't know what to say to each other now that things had changed so radically.
"We're alone. Right?"
I glanced around to check and nodded, only to remember with a painful jolt that Bruce couldn't see me.
"Yes," I said aloud.
"You realize what this means, don't you?"
"Robin will be flying solo from now on."
I just about fell over. He was right! The Caped Crusader was no longer available, so it would be up to the Boy Wonder to protect the fair city of Gotham from then on. Alone.
But I'd never done anything alone in my life! Back in the circus, we were the Flying Graysons—please note the plural—and we had always been there for each other. And then, after my parents died and I became Robin, Batman had always been there for me. Sometimes, Superman or Wonder Woman or some other random superhero would be there to help Robin as well. But even they wouldn't be able to travel to Gotham City on a nightly basis just to help an uncertain fifteen-year-old.
"We both knew this would happen someday, Dick."
"Sure, but I thought I'd be all grown up by the time you… well, never mind what I thought… but I'm not ready for this! I'M the 'Boy Blunder', YOU'RE the Dark Knight! No comparison!"
"You don't actually believe that 'Boy Blunder' business, do you?"
Actually, yes, I did. I was always messing up, always making mistakes, always distracting the good guys and helping the bad guys—inadvertently, of course. And when you hear something often enough, even if it's from riff-raff like Penguin and Joker, you start to believe it. But I couldn't say any of that to…
"I'll take your silence as a yes."
"Look," he continued. "I didn't ask for this, and I don't want it any more than you do. But we got it, and you know as well as I do that Gotham's residents need you. You are not about to let them down."
"I… I can't!"
"And why not?"
"Because this is all my fault—I couldn't possibly…"
"What did you just say?"
I took a deep breath and repeated myself.
"What put a ridiculous idea like that into your head?"
Once again, Bruce was using that tone of voice that meant he didn't have so much as a clue to figure out how my teenage brain worked.
"Because it's the truth! Who was the one who insisted on going back right then? If I hadn't, then you wouldn't have—"
"Dick, I think you're just upset. Don't take this out on yourself."
"Of course I'm upset!" I cried, ignoring his last sentence. "This whole stinkin' thing has me upset! You don't know what it's like to think that the person who means the most to you was just murdered, and to realize that it's happened again—that you've just had to watch someone else you care about killed before your eyes! You know a lot of things, Bruce, but that's one thing you don't! I do!"
So that's where all my emotions had gotten to.
He was quiet for a minute. He held up a hand and beckoned for me to come closer. There was still a good two feet between us. Don't ask how he knew that I wasn't already as close as I could get—maybe he noticed that my voice was still a bit distant or something.
Anyway, I moved. I moved until I was practically touching the sheets.
"Now tell me the truth. Did you think that June had killed me earlier?"
"You—you know about June?"
"That's a pretty pointless question. Now answer mine."
I suddenly felt embarrassed about what I had thought, and what I had just said to him. It was the unwritten law in my life to never, ever discuss my emotions with Bruce the way I just had.
"Well, what else was I supposed to think?" I answered defensively. "Was it my fault you looked dead?"
"Don't get your feathers ruffled, kid, I was just asking."
"No you're not."
I wanted to scream. Bruce had never been the easiest person to get along with, but now he was just impossible! I knew he must be feeling frustrated because of his lost sight, but still.
"As soon as we get home, call Superman and ask him to help you out for your first couple of nights. I'm sure he'll be more than happy to oblige."
"I don't suppose abdication is an option."
"I didn't think so," I sighed unhappily. Then I turned around and left the darkened room behind me, more depressed than ever.
Alfred must have seen the overcast expression on my face, but he said nothing about it. He just told me not to wander off while he was gone and disappeared inside. I wished him better luck with Bruce than I had had just before the door closed.
Once again, that crumbling feeling hit me—Bruce seemed to feel as if being blind was as good as being dead, and the Batman was already gone. My whole life began to collapse all over again, and I didn't know how to fix it.
I slid down against the wall, making sure I wasn't close enough to any doors to get squashed if one opened. Then I pulled my knees up to my chest and buried my head in my folded arms. Everything was just coming at me too quickly. I liked my life to be fast-paced, but this was overkill.
Once again, I was drowning. But this time, I didn't know how to get to the surface.
Me: Well, I thought that was pretty good, if I do say so myself.
Dick (sourly): Well nobody ASKED you.
Me: Oh, what's your problem?
Dick: 'What's my problem?'! Were you even reading this thing? You've destroyed my whole life, and you have the nerve to ask what my problem is!
Me: Don't worry! Things'll work out okay!
Dick: (lots of grumbling)
Me: Yeah, well, ignoring Mr. Gloomy over here, I just wanted to let you know that I'm going to try the new 'reply' buttons near the reviews for my reviewer replies. If they work, I'll use them from now on. If not, I'll go back to the traditional way. Live long and prosper! ;-)