Summary: A short story. Bruce Wayne is devastated, scarred and damaged after his final encounter with the Joker. Post-TDK, spoilers included.

Rating: T for violence and lots of darkness.

Notes: I was just so sad for Bruce Wayne at the end of The Dark Knight - also very curious on what happens next. So I wrote this. As you may have predicted by now it takes place directly after TDK. It may be a bit long - enjoy.

The Darkest Night

A Batman Begins fanfiction by Haladflire65

Light. There was bright light, blinding, even through his closed eyelids. Noise. A bleep-bleep of a machine, some voices, jangling of metal.

For a while that was all there was in the world. Light. Noise.

Then came the pain. A steady throb that came with each heartbeat, dull aches all over. Breathing wasn't easy. It took effort, it took thought. Breathe in, breathe out. In, out, in, out.

For seventy-two hours, this process was repeated. For seventy-two hours, Bruce Wayne remained half-unconscious, very pale and still, on his bed in the penthouse.

Machines were hooked up to him, monitering his breathing and heart rate. Bandages swathed his bruised and bare torso, some of which were bloodstained. He was pale and feverish, dark hair matted with sweat...

A familiar voice reached him in his dark, confused dreams.

"You. Complete. Me."

"We're going to be doing this forever."

Then his own words, echoing through the emptiness -

"You'll hunt me. You'll condemn me, set the dogs on me because it's what needs to happen. Because sometimes, the truth isn't good enough. Sometimes, people deserve more."

Police sirens were wailing, dogs were barking viciously, cops were yelling after him -

Bruce bolted awake. The sudden brightness made his temples pulse. The agony stabbed through his side and stomach, making him fall back with a hiss of pain. He lay there, gasping for breath, willing the burning to fade. Bruce almost expected police dogs to be chasing after him again - soon his thoughts merged into dreams once more, and he faded of into unconsciousness.

Then came another nightmare. The Joker was laughing that maniacal gigle of his... Then Bruce saw Harvey Dent, lying in the rubble, neck twisted at a strange angle - his disfigured face showing... German Shepherds barking...

We're going to be doing this forever.

"No!" Bruce awoke for a second time with a scream. This time Alfred had been sitting by his side. He rushed forward with an exclamation.

"Master Wayne!" It took several minutes to calm Bruce down. He was panicked, hysterical, panaroid - why, Alfred did not know. He had never seen his master like this before, not in over thirty years.

When Bruce grasped that there was no immediate threat near him he lay back again, breathing hard and fast. Blood had spread over his bandages; Alfred risked unravelling them, trusting that his master wouldn't have another outbreak anytime soon.

"Alfred." Alfred barely recognized the hoarse rasp that was Bruce's voice. "Alfred. How long?"

"Four and a half days, Master Wayne." Replied Alfred quietly. He was looking at Bruce's injuries - the bullet wound on his stomach, and the knife wound on his side, between his ribs. They still bled profusely, even nearly five days after the injury.

"How bad was I hurt?" Bruce whispered as Alfred tended to him.

"Quite badly." Said Alfred. "Thre was a large amount of bruising everywhere, you had a concussion, and you lost lots of blood. We had to give you a blood transfusion-"

"We?" Bruce asked sharply with surprsing energy.

"I'm sorry, sir, but your injuries were too severe for Lucius and I to handle alone. I called a woman, a colleague and good friend of your father's - she treated you without question. We allowed her to think what she wanted to about your circumstances, and trusted her to keep quiet. It was an emergency - you were dying, Master Wayne."

Bruce stared at Alfred, horrified. "You showed me to her in this state?"

"Actually, sir, you were looking far worse back then..."

"Alfred." Said Bruce. "Don't you realize how dangerous that is? What if the doctor tells someone? What would happen if my identity was revealed? Goddammit, Alfred, even the police are after me now - " Bruce broke off, interrupted by a sudden coughing fit. The pain made his eyes water; his hands were pressed to his wounds, from where more blood was leaking. When the coughing subsided Bruce lay back, sweating, drained, gasping for breath.

Alfred left the room for a moment and came back with a wet towel. He set the towel on Bruce's hot forehead, and asked him quietly -

"What happened, Master Wayne?"

Bruce remained silent for so long that Alfred would have thought he was asleep again. But then Bruce opened his eyes, as said in a heartbreakingly weary whisper -

"I lost. Everything."

Alfred waited patiently for more.

"Harvey Dent - he's dead. Gone bad before he did, and killed five people. The Joker... I stopped him before he could blow up some ferries... He's in custody..."


Another long pause. "I took the blame for Harvey. The cops are after me, they're to shoot me down on sight. Only Gordon knows the truth..."

"I'm sorry, sir." Alfred murmured. He couldn't help but wonder whether Bruce's sacrifice was really necesary. As if answering his unasked question, Bruce spoke again.

"Gotham needs its true hero. People would have lost all hope if they found out about what Harvey did. Gotham would have died with his reputation... The police will hunt me because it's what needs to happen." They were the same words he had spoken to Gordon. Bruce closed his eyes and didn't open them again.

Alfred bowed his head. He felt the same sorrow for Bruce as when Rachel and his parents had died. This man, his master, had sacrificed his identity, his life, for Gotham's soul...

For the second time this week, Alfred shed tears.

Police sirens rang through the streets, German Shepherds barked, cops shouted orders.

Commissioner James Gordon stood among the mayhem with a heavy heart. For his task was to find - and kill - Batman, who was now a convicted murderer.

The truth depressed Gordon. That Batman was innocent - more than innocent, in fact. He had saved his family from the deranged Harvey Dent, he had captured the Joker and saved dozens of lives. Yet no one knew that. No one, apart from Gordon himself.

It had been over a month since Gordon had last talked to Batman - the night Harvey Dent had died. That night, Batman had been shot and bleeding. Gordon didn't even know whether Batman had gotten home alive, wherever he lived. Some cops reported sightings of the masked man, but none of them were very reliable. Seeing Batman and capturing him were two different matters. In fact, it was difficult to even keep the man in sight for more than a few seconds. By the time the cops got their guns loaded, Batman would be long gone.

Tonight didn't seem to be any different. Gordon went up to the roof of a nearby building with a heavy sigh. He found an officer there, whom he sent down to the streets to help guide the other policemen.

Gordon was startled when a familiar voice reached his ears.

"Hello, Gordon."

Gordon whirled around. A man detatched himself from the shadows. "Batman? What - what the hell are you doing here? You know we're looking for you - " Gordon wished that he had something better to tell the man.

"I do."

"Then why - "

"You didn't expect me to stay quiet forever, did you?"

No, he didn't. He knew it was a lame question to ask, but he asked it, anyway.

"How... how are you?"

A pause, then a short reply. "I've been better."

"Has... has the wound healed?"

"No." There was something in his voice that Gordon couldn't decipher.

After a moment of silence, Gordon spoke again. He felt ashamed speaking the words. His faith in Batman was strong, but his sense of duty was stronger. He didn't want to break the law. Heck, he was a commissioner, for God's sake.

"You know what I have to do."

Batman looked at him, then said softly, "Yes."

As if it hurt, Gordon slowly reached up to his lapel radio. "Sergeant, up on the roof now. I've sighted the Batman." Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a dark shadow glide from the roof and into the air. Noise came from the radio - dogs barking, men yelling - "It's him!", sirens wailing - Gordon rushed downstairs.

Half-heartedly, Gordon said to his men - "Move, move, move!" Several officers got their guns loaded. Gordon saw Batman's shadow fly through the streets - a sergeant gave orders for open fire. All the bullets seemed to have missed. Seemed to have. Gordon couldn't tell whether he had just seen Batman's flight waver or not.

The important thing was, Batman was gone. The cops were cursing and attempting to calm down the agitated dogs. Gordon just looked after the direction Batman had flown, praying silently. Please, please let him be all right.

"Commissioner. Should we go after him?" A cop asked him.

Gordon nodded, knowing that they would never be able to capture Batman in a million years.

Batman stood high on a ledge on Wayne Tower, umoving. Blood trickled from the bullet wound on his shoulder, but the pain was not great, compared to the steady throbbing in his torso that had become his constant companion for the past month.

Gotham City was glorious. Its buildings sparkled; skyscrapers reached into the heavens. Its lights twinkled at Batman as if mocking him. He couldn't help but feel that way. He had destroyed his life trying to save the city. Yet it rotted on. But still it shone like a beautiful jem.

The cold wind howled at his face, making it sting and tingle. His eyes were closed as he tried to calm his breathing. Physical pain is not hard to ignore. It was something he had leraned while he was training at Ra's al Ghul's monastery. Some teachers deliberately inflicted pain on students to teach them to endure. Bruce Wayne was no exception. The more he screamed, the longer his training session was. Soon he learned to keep his agony to himself - he learned to harness it, to use it to his advantage. Sometimes pain could fuel your strength.

But mental pain couldn't be ignored. Batman found himself feeling that more than ever. The agony in his heart was crippling. Seeing Jim Gordon chasing after him made him tremble. He knew he had been asking for a price on his head when he took Harvey's blame. But now that it was actually happening... And he couldn't even harm those unknowing policemen...

How could life possibly be so cruel? Thought Batman. So cruel... Cruelty was nothing new to him. But this wasn't just cruelty. This was torture, pure torture. Batman felt the full weight of Rachel Dawes and Harvey Dent's deaths on him. The thought of Rachel was like a knife in his heart. How he missed her... And how he blamed himself for her death...

Harvey Dent. Gotham's White Knight. The man who Batman had believed would be the next hero. Just thinking about his deformed face made Batman shudder. How afraid he had been for the Gordons on that night. His sorrow for Dent was also great.

Physical pain could be ignored, but mental pain couldn't be. Batman wasn't sure for how much longer he could bear this torment for. Lifting his head, he let out a scream, a beastly, inhuman scream. The sound shattered the silence, it raked his throat like an animal's claws. But no one would be able to hear it from the ground far below him, let alone figure out where it came from. Batman had never felt so desolately alone before.

Later, he spotted some gangsters trying to hurt a teenaged boy. Batman went to them, and received a brutal beating from the criminals. He took it, almost enjoying it. He relished the pain, savoured hit. He needed it.

Without waiting for the terrified boy to thank him, Batman limped off into the darkness. If this happens every night, he thought, I'd cease to exist pretty soon.

Lucius Fox was working late tonight. There was much to do. Complicated business with shares and funds, plus he was working on a new invention down in the lab.

He decided that the matter of money was more important, and went to his office to work on it. It was well over one o'clock when Fox heard the strange noise outside the building.

His window had been open. He walked over to it. The sound - what was it? A howl? A scream? It seemed to be something in between; it sounded like some wild animal's cry. Feeling nervous for no apparent reason, Fox slowly stuck his head out the window, and looked down.

At first, he couldn't see anything. But a few moments later, after his eyes had adjusted to the darkness, Fox sighted a black cape, flapping in the wind - Batman's cape.

He was standing precariously on a ledge of the building, head completely bowed. The Batman. Otherwise known as Bruce Wayne, Lucius's boss.

Fox didn't watch a whole lot of news, but he did know that Batman was now considered a criminal - a highly dangerous murderer. He had once asked Bruce about it. Naturally he didn't get a reply. It was the same when Fox questioned Bruce about his wounds. As far as he knew only himself, Alfred and the doctor had seen them, and they hadn't been very pretty to look at. The doctor had told Fox and Alfred that the injuries would probably never fully heal. It was plain to see. Bruce was pale and sickly-looking at work; Fox often heard him gasp or hiss with pain when he moved.

There was something wet and shiny on Batman's shoulder. Fox guessed it was a straight shot from a powerful gun. He wondered what Batman had been doing outside when the police had a manhunt on for him. Fox was one of the few people who noticed the difference in Bruce Wayne after his encounter with the Joker. His expression was usually dark; he often sat in his seat, looking into space, for hours on end. It worried Fox and Alfred, yet they could do nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Fox continued to watch Batman, thinking. After a while the masked man jumped straight off the building, snapped open his wings, and flew off into the night. He looked frightening yet strangely majestic. Fox's creation. He felt proud of it, despite himself, as it glided through the sky.

He stepped away from the window, and closed it.

"Time to work," he mumured to himself, and sat down in front of his desk again.

"Are you planning on killing yourself?" Alfred asked as Bruce staggered into the living room and collapsed onto the couch. Alfred began his age-old routine of examinng his master for injuries.

Bruce winced when Alfred found the bullet wound. "I wish," he muttered.

"What happened tonight?" Alfred busied himself with the doctoring. It wasn't a severe wound, but it looked painful enough. The bullet was still lodged inside.

"Police fire," Bruce replied bluntly as Alfred went to get tweezers and a bowl. "At least they didn't manage to kill me."

"They seem to have come bloody close." Alfred remarked, beginning to probe the wound with the tweezers.

Bruce grimaced and remained silent. They had come very close in bringing him down. If those bullets hadn't missed... Bruce didn't want to think about it. As for the thugs... they weren't quite good enough to kill him.

"Ahhh, shit, that hurts like hell, Alfred..." Bruce groaned when Alfred dug in deeper.

"I'm afraid the bullet got in quite deep, Master Wayne." Alfred said. "Ah, there we go." he dropped the bloody, distorted bullet into the bowl with a clang.

"That was difficult." Bruce exhaled.

"Indeed it was." Alfred began to bandage the shoulder. "How are your previous injuries?"

Bruce didn't answer. Alfred raised his eyebrows; with a sigh Bruce stripped off his shirt. As he had expected there was blood staining the bandages below. Alfred removed them and started tending to the wounds.

"They've opened again, sir," he said.

"I know." Bruce replied, and closed his mouth for another few moments, ignoring the twinging and throbbing tat accompanied Alfred's doctoring. When Alfred finished, he said - "Alfred."

Alfred looked up. "Yes, Master Wayne?"

"I -" Bruce faltered. He put his face in his hands, then looked at Alfred, his eyes red. "I can't take this any more. I really can't. Rachel and Harvey dead, Gordon and the entire criminal world after me, these accursed injuries - how can I live on like this? This is torture, Alfred, torture... How can anyone endure this? I know I can't, not any more. I just want to give up on my entire Batman project, forget about everything that happened... But I know I can't turn my back on what I started, what I created..."

"Master Wayne," said Alfred quietly, "Allow me to quote a man you know very well. 'The night is darkest before the dawn.' Do you recall that line?"

Bruce nodded somberly. "Harvey Dent's speech at the press conference - before he turned himself in as Batman."

"The sentence right after, do you remember that, as well?"

"'And I promise you - the dawn is coming.'" Bruce recited slowly. He looked at Alfred. "Are you saying that this is the darkest night?"

Alfred nodded. "Precisely, sir."

"I hope you're right." Bruce murmured. "After all, how much worse can life get?" He said with a humorless smile.

"Not very." Alfred agreed. Then he said, solemnly, "Promise me, Master Wayne - promise me not to give up, promise me to endure this. The dawn is coming."

"The dawn is coming..." Bruce repeated quietly. He looked outside the window. The sun was rising. He looked up at Alfred, felt a distant hope fill his heart - and replied, "Yes, I promise. I will."


Sorry for any errors or oddities you may have noticed in this fic yesterday. I typed this out from my notebook in, say, half an hour - my parents were rushing me, so I may have made some mistakes and typos. I'll fix them as best as possible. I'll appreciate it if you reviewers can tell me about any errors you find reading the story. Thanks so much.

I referred to the movie novel when writing this. This line in the epilogue struck me as very sad - 'as he crossed the rooftops of the sleeping city, not sure where he was going, knowing only that his wounds were deep and would never heal -' I thought it would be good to use that to emphasize the damage on Bruce Wayne inflicted by the Joker and Two-Face. That's to answer gaap237.

CompleteSolitude: I think I'll change the category of the fic to Angst/Hurt/Comfort, as suggested. Thank you. I just didn't have enough time yesterday to think about the category of the story.

And as for continuing the story - I'm not sure. This was meant to be a one-shot, not a whole new TDK sequel, so I might not write on. If anyone could offer me some good ideas, who knows? But then again, I never know what may pop up in my mind as life goes on... XD