Bitter Pill to Swallow

(Bruce Wayne)

No matter how many times his heart is ripped out, his skin flayed and his stomach gnarled into one terrible knot, the pain is still new and surprising.

Betrayal hurts, irrelevant to who administers it.

Some, he reflects, hurt more than others, true. The longer the relations, the deeper the betrayal, but at heart it is the same anguish, same disbelief and same rage no matter how long the involvement lasted.

The Bat hates betrayal. As the inhuman, machine-like part of Bruce Wayne, it sees the emotional pain as a disgusting remnant of human weakness and stupidity and later seethes. Turning to Bruce, it snarls as the realization hits that that the Bat and Bruce Wayne are one, no matter how hard they try to separate.

But it's not just a one way street. For rich, stupid playboy Bruce Wayne, mistakes effect him just as much, driving in the knowledge that the two selves– the Bat and Bruce--trod into each other's lives no matter how hard they try to split.

The dreaded reality is this: Bruce is only human. Human enough to make errors, seek blindly, feel emotion and pain and everything else that so basically defines his species. He's human enough–yes, the World's Greatest Detective–to be duped, even if it is an incredibly rare and frightening occurrence. .

The Bat does give him some leniency at one point; Bruce Wayne was too young to question the authenticity of his friendship with Thomas Elliot when he was only thirteen. He hadn't learned–entirely–that humans can pick up their evil early, and though the boy knew that man, in all his capabilities to destroy and preserve, could ruin his world, he never thought that the kid he played cards with, talked jokingly with and played soccer with could have such a dangerous power.

But kids eventually evolve into adults--into women and men--and in this changing, this growing of tissue structures and emotions and losing of naivety and innocence, they become the things that they either most dreamed of or most feared.

Something in Bruce tells him that Thomas only dreamed of becoming an adult.

It then turns to him and whispers gently that he had felt the same way, too.

Coincidence, perchance?

He's heard the "we're not so different" monologue dozens of times, with only a few variations and few tweaks in the script, and incident after incident, villain after villain, it is the same old thing.

Except with Thomas.

That truth terrifies him more than anything else.

Unlike most of the other villains, Hush had been right.

They were alike, or maybe...maybe even more than that. Brothers, twins, light and darkness, good and evil...the perverse twist on the other's destiny and dreams. Nothing is coincidental and the Bat realizes this, understanding that somewhere out there, someone has a fucked up sense of humor.

...of course, he dresses up like a bat night after night and pursues ghosts that should've been put to rest a long time ago, so he might not have any room to talk.

Bruce has balanced very precariously on the line between good and bad since the Change, and he knows that there have been more than a few times when someone nudged him just enough to dangerously play with equilibrium. It's only been because he had those around him–spotters like Dick, Alfred, Barbara and her father–that he managed to pull through and save himself.

Even then, something was always compromised; the climb back onto the wire always came more slowly and hesitantly than before, the steel balanced upon seemed less sturdy, the feet more unsure. Assuredness at one's ability came to question, and with it came the horrific thought that the spotters might not be there if there when there's another teeter or fall.

He always climbed back up to the wire, but every single time he had to make that ascent back up something painful inside him twitched.

It twitched again last night on the Docks. It twitched when Hush suddenly became Thomas and when Thomas bared his teeth and told him: "We're not so different, you and I."

It's a painful twitch. He wishes that he had a pill with him that would make it stop.

But then he walks over to the medicine cabinet up in his master bedroom, walks over in the bleak hours of the morning (Babs assures him that "Gotham is still" and Tim works too well to be criticized) and swings open the mirror to glance at all the pain pills. He sees the vitamins (Alfred insists upon them, but Bruce personally thinks they're bullshit) and the other random medicines and that single narcotic that he has vowed he'll never touch.

It's then that Bruce snorts, closes the cabinet and stares at his reflection in the mirror.

And he understands.

No matter what the pill is, if it even has a tangible bitterness that stays on the tongue or doesn't, he won't shove it down his throat willingly. He can't even stand the medicine after being injured, fearing he might lose focus, lose the edge he had and lose track of the pain that makes him real.

Pain hurts. Truth hurts. Betrayal hurts.

But without them he wouldn't exist. They have made him strong, have hammered down the soft iron and made it hard, cold and unbreakable steel.

Blue eyes watch blue eyes in the mirror carefully, evaluating.

"We're not so different, you and I."

Thomas was right, but not in the way he expected. Borne of the same disastrous childhoods, of the same intelligence and same determination, they are eerily similar.

But Bruce has a feeling that Thomas' willingness to swallow pills was a lot more than his own.

Rage. Hate. Disgust. Apathy. Pain.

Thomas took the whole handful of them in his hand and mentally ticked off their ingredients--he would carefully pick Pain out of the pile and place it on the counter top--before throwing his head back and chugging them down. He didn't bother with the water because that was something that he knew–being a doctor and everything–wasn't needed to get the pills to their desired destinations. He didn't bother with considering what the ingredients did with him because he was only focused with what they could get currently.

Bruce looked at Rage, Hate, Disgust, Apathy and Pain all nestled in his palm and gleaming in their pretty little capsules–red, white and violet, blue and black–and he stopped.

Pills only alleviate problems temporarily; eventually you'll have to take another one, and then another one, and then another one and then it becomes a deadly addiction.

Bruce is obsessive, and he knows that his counterpart was.

Bruce thinks long-term; Thomas did the same.

But the one difference is that Thomas swallowed Hate and Rage without a second thought, craving for that fuel that they gave him.

He had avoided Pain entirely.

Bruce took Rage, Hate, Disgust and terrifying Apathy and dumped them into the toilet. He didn't leave Pain to contemplate its condition on the counter.

And he had a glass of water next to him.

Blue eyes stare into blue eyes again, glittering with barely disguised observation. Bruce wonders what his reflection would say to him right now, what it would tell him and what it wouldn't tell him if it could, and then blinks.

The tension breaks.

No deep conversations with his reflection. No double-sided mirrors.

It's only him and himself, staring into a reflective surface with the faintest glimmer of humor as he wonders about the twitch in him that just pulled powerfully and the living qualities of a mirror.

There are none, the Bat tells him. Mirrors are very inanimate.

No Rage, Hate, Disgust and Apathy to swallow.

There's only the dreadful jerk inside him that reminds him that he is different from Thomas, and that if it came down to Pain, he would win.

Bruce walks out his bathroom more slowly than he went into it--he pauses a moment to turn off the light, almost forgetting--but the twitch that cuts into him suddenly doesn't seem as bad.

Pain is a terrible pill to swallow, but he knows it divides him from his dark twin. It is what makes him him. Keeping him from succumbing to hate and rage and all those filthy things that lurk just below the narrow wire which he balances, it has made him Bruce and has kept him from becoming Thomas.

We're not so different, you and I.

Thomas was wrong.


A/N: Many thanks to all those who reviewed--it was more than appreciated and certainly helped me keep going with this short (but strangely difficult to write) story/vignette thingy. I hope you enjoyed reading this and that the end was a nice wrap-up.