There was this thing about love, about truly caring for someone. Their tragedies become your tragedies. When they hurt you feel their pain. When they cry all you want to do is wipe away their tears and drown with them.
When they die a part of you dies.
And when the world has hurt them, when words are no longer enough and it feels like the whole universe has crashed down around them and all the debris lays unmovable between you…
You are lost.
A ship without a guiding star.
A martyr with no reason.
And all you want to do is go home.
He was silent as death in Batman's arms, unmoving, letting himself be carried away, wrapped in the Dark Knights cape.
Physically he existed, trapped in the safety of Batman's stone embrace. Mentally he was gone, a million miles away in some beautiful place where nothing ever happened except the beating of your heart. In his wake he left only hollowed dead eyes and a body, unspectacular without a soul.
In the car he started to hyperventilate, he was unresponsive, his eyes dilated. Batman had no choice but to sedate him, if he was aggravating a wound…
Alfred was notified of the situation from the radio link in cold clipped tones and sentences the Bat could not remember once they had died on his lips. When Batman finally pulled into the cave Alfred was waiting at the medical table, a statue of a saving god waiting for its chance to matter, prepped and ready but unnaturally still.
Alfred stood, waiting in a sea of sterile white and shining metal, and for the first time in decades spent together, Bruce could see the weight of all of Alfreds long years pressing down on him.
Batman emerged from the car, pulling the Knights limp body from its restraints, gently securing the cape around him.
Not feeling any of it.
He was frozen.
Even as he tucked the Knights limp body into his arms, cradling him carefully for the short walk, he could feel the blood beating against the battalions of his frozen heart. Feel the ice spread in his veins, into his numb and distant mind. Crystallizing.
He felt lobotomized. A world apart.
This was not his life. Not his pain.
He worked on auto pilot, laying the unconscious man down, letting him go with only a slight B-Dump of dread in his heart.
He pulled at the cape, watched as the dark edges fluttered to the ground like a bats wings shuttering as it falls dead into black oblivion. The staunch white light of the medical lamps created an antiseptic pool of light in a sea of black water… and everything was revealed.
Strips of twisted leather clung to pale white skin, flesh and material stuck together with thickened blood. The climax of a gory horror film thrust awkwardly into their almost genuine lives. Alfred's gloved hands cut away at the grotesque remains of the costume, throwing away piece by piece their ruined past.
The Knight laid bared to them, uncovered save for the clinging mask on his face and the veil of blood that covered his body. Before Alfred could cover him, before he could shield him from the cold kiss of the air Batman's greedy blank eyes roved over him. His skin was a map of white slices of scar tissue; violent new strips of painful crimson cut their cruel paths into pieces. No gash was too small nor too shallow to be committed to memory by his hungry eyes. Each slash was filed away in his the depths of his mind to be retrieved in the night, his divine punishment, to lay willingly each night upon Mount Caucasus, Prometheus Bound. As if any punishment could ever suffice for his sins.
Batman agonized over each wound, every last break of flesh that he had caused with his own foolishness. With his inability to stop it from happening. Wounds that had been willingly endured to save him because he was not strong enough to save himself.
Superficial wounds that meant nothing in the true face of what had happened to them.
Each wound etched itself into Batman's mind with blood and vengeance, hiding in the dark with scattered pearls. He needed to see, to keep the memory fresh in his mind all of his cursed days; he needed to create wounds in himself that could never heal because he could never compare with the evil done in his name. But even as plotted his dismal future, as he stared at the wilted body before him and though this is him, my Knight… He could still not make sense of it in his mind, no matter what he thought it never felt real. He never felt the pain that should rip his blackened heart from his chest and squeeze the life from it.
Things like this happened every day without reason or bias. As Batman he witnessed things like this every night, murder, rape, he knew how to react.
He knew what it was to have a greasy prep splinter in his hands, knew in the echoes of the cursed night the endless screams that had nothing to do with the broken rapist. He knew the look of anguish in the shadows, the sounds of sirens in the distance that meant that help was on the way and he was free to leave….
But there was no one here to break. No Calvary to save his broken Knight and no white knight to wipe his face and make the resonating howl of torment that would come with the moment of wakefulness stop.
Alfred had finished examining the Knights abused skull. Ok. He was ok. Alfred whispered the words that were only a half truth.
Not ok, never ok…but alive.
He was useless. He could not help here. What did he know of medicine that could help the man he had doomed? What did he know of how to comfort, to pretend he understood emotion never felt but read of in text books? But maybe, back in the harsh night, in his familiar bittersweet Gotham he could make a difference. Maybe there was a villain to break after all.
Did the penguin live? Did his bloodied broken Knight finish him in his blinded fury, innocent as a child with a shotgun? He should have checked, should not have to question now, he had not acted rationally before. He had not thought as he was newly freed from death, from the grips of hell itself to climb into this mindless limbo. He had held the trembling Knight in his arms…he had stepped forward to cuff the penguin, to lock him away somewhere where not even rats braved to tread. Maybe if he was not dead…maybe he would have finished the job.
But the Knight had stopped him.
His eyes. His pain. He asked him to stop in a half broken whisper, asked him to go. So he did.
But the Knight was safe now, as safe as he could be in their rabid city. His sweet prince lay in blissful unconsciousness. He lay now, not the man who stood tall on the tops of gothic towers, not the man who took down half of Gotham's most wanted with a smile that sparkled… he lay now broken. The man that had captured the Bat and had made him feel lay now unseeing, unable to stop him, unable to need him.
Batman needed to go now. Somewhere out in his city was the person who had done this. His city slept and he would cut the cancer from her, cut until the man who had taken too much from him was brought to justice. Yes. He would cut away the blackened necrosis that rotted Gotham and tainted their lives; he would make sure the Penguin never had the chance to do this again.
Without a word Batman took a final look at the too-still, obscured figure of the man he thought he loved and took a purposeful step back. Batman was turning to go in a stream of black when his eyes fell briefly, fitfully, across Alfred.
The older man was working diligently, hands like a musicians as they stemmed the blood flow from one of the deeper gashes, fighting to keep the precious ruby droplets pumping through the broken mans' heart. He never said a word, never looked up, never flinched as his hands stained red and the sheets black with blood.
Something was different.
Something was wrong even now.
Alfred had been a field medic for years and he had tended to the most dire of Batmans wounds for countless years longer. He had seen death and gore and youth and life, meaningless as they pass you by. Meaningless when they are lost to the too short passage of time and fate, lost in the careless hands of the criminal class and hatful metal. He had patched Bruce's near mortal wounds, the man he counted his own child, without the bat of an eye.
But there was an unusual sorrow in his eyes as he worked. The perpetual dry wit that had saved Bruce from the darkest tendencies of his own soul more times than he could count had vanished as if it had never existed. It had disappeared with the light that had once graced the Knight. His untouchable butler, his medic, and his dearest friend was looking down at the Knight with grim, terrible pain.
Alfred's eyes rose, still holding a life in his hands, he saw Batman for what he was, knew what his one terrible step away meant for them all.
When the blue eyes of his oldest friend met his Bruce's own he realized that the pain he saw there was not for the Knight.
It was for him.
It was the same look Alfred had all those years ago when Bruce rushed into his arms, a child whispering as his world collapsed. 'they are gone'
It was the same look he had as he held Bruce and told the police that he would take full custody of his charge.
He should not look at him with those eyes. Not now.
But then again everything was wrong.
And the worst part of all that his in his twisted dark soul…he felt none of it at all.
He wondered in an abstract mindless way, caught in between choices, stuck at the crossroads and unable to take a step further, why he felt nothing. He should burn, he should be on fire. He should want to kill and maim, to comfort and banish the darkness that had infected both of them. To hold the Knight and tell him everything would be 'ok' and yet…here he was…standing apart from everything.
Dark. Empty. Cold.
Did he feel nothing because he did not love the Knight as he thought he had? Was it possible that his mind had finally broken? That he could have imagined a relationship, a desire…a completeness in himself… that was not there? Could his broken heart have superimposed feelings on the Knight that had no place in the Bats life?
Batman looked down at bloodied golden curls.
The lurch of his heart, the singular thought of 'mine' that erased all the wandering homeless thoughts in his mind, the need to take him far away from here where no one would ever find them told him no.
Alfred's pained grim eyes…
His own mindless horror, the way his traitorous heart slowed when it should be racing…
He was in shock.
The Batman was in shock.
Batman took a step forward, away from the batmobile, away from the path not taken and into the light shining on the Knight. Dead or alive the penguin would wait, and the rest...
Pitying blue eyes looked back at him, surprised to see him still there, amazed and twinkling again with life, even drained and blood splattered they shone.
Still not feeling but understanding, knowing, Bruce reached beneath the twisted red and white sheet, a demented inkblot, and cradled a cold limp hand in his own.
Bruce thought he could stay like this forever.
It could serve a purpose.
The little boy soaked in his mother blood, staring up at the police with wide, dry, eyes.
Intellectually Bruce understood that there were emotional repercussions to deal with. That this went beyond the physical, beyond the comforting facts of textbooks and research. He knew that even when the wounds were gone, reduced at long last to just another road of perfect, raised, white on a map of scars… The Knight would still be hurt. Still wounded and broken, still his tortured martyr.
Eventually the shock, the abrupt numb, painlessness Batman existed in now would fade. Eventually he would feel the pain he wished would envelope him if only to know that he still existed. He would see with clear eyes what had been done to the other half of himself, his adopted family. He would see at long last the true face of evil; he would see what had been done to the man that he did love.
Love. The only thing he could feel. He could feel it through his suit, what was metal and cloth to the force that brought the Bat crashing to his knees? He felt it in every beat of the Knights heart, felt it burn through his glove and emanate up his arm from where they touched, gentle as a caress.
But maybe when the time came to become human once more, to feel that exquisite damning pain…he could anticipate it, disregard it. What if he refused to feel that pain again? What if could feel only anger, what if he could harness sit? Use it? Let it become part of him in the dark where Bruce disappeared and the Bat protected the night?
What if he could take no more? Already an orphan, already mutilated…how far could a heart break before it shattered? At what point did damage become irreparable?
Maybe he could exist as the Bat while Bruce hid away, weak, human. Cold and emotionless in his chosen face he could exist. The Knight would understand his forced indifference. Maybe the new fire in the Bat, his new passion to fight for what was right and extinguish the bad would provide the Knight a way to heal, show him the unfeeling path to take, a way to survive. Maybe the Bats new origin, a life dedicated to only the mission, only ever this life and forsake all others…maybe it would be enough to forgive the fact that Bruce died in the cold, maybe it would be enough to turn a blind eye to the fact that a Bat could not wipe your tears when you cried.
The Knight would understand.
He would have to.
A life numb to life. Love placed upon a pedestal, a rose encased in glass and never touched, never again to be brought out into the light to be admired, never again to smell its sweet perfume.
Half death in the face of perpetual darkness.
In the face of fate worse than death.
Of failing his family, his Knight, every moment. With every breath, with every beat of his worthless heart. He should envy Prometheus Bound.
Not this pain.
Not his family. Not again.
Bruce watched the rise and fall of his chest, too sick looking with its pale red hue covering chalk white and laced with vibrant crimson. He watched closed eyes behind a mask of black and imagined green. How much time lay before them? How much remained to them until Bruce could stand it no longer? Beyond that- when years separated them and broke their spirits- how long did their broken bodies have to breathe and pulse with crude life? How much time was Bruce stealing from them because he was too weak to exist in this world as a man?
"I am sorry."
Sorry for what I did and did not do.
Sorry for the Past.
Sorry for the future.
Sorry for the future we do not have.
Sorry I will leave you all alone.
But imagined green eyes opened and became real, eyes and stared into the Batmans zombie soul, seconds of existing were stolen in their hidden limbo before a gasp escaped the Knights full lips and tumbled them onto a path the Bat had never anticipated.
"Bats!" Soft and sweet and real.
And all the beautiful apathy, the carefully crafted indifference, the miles that separated them…broke and shattered into a million useless crystals. And it hurt with a pain more intense and sweet than Bruce ever imagined.
It hurt and it was real and he would never give it up. Not for his god forsaken soul.
Batman crashed down on the bed, gathering his friend's broken form into his arms, holding him close as tears rose to his eyes and spilled down his cheeks, coating the inside of his cowl until he could taste his broken sobs as he gasped for air and the Bat dissolved under Bruce's force.
Two soft naked arms wrapped around his cold armor, holding him, pressing soft curls into his cheek as the Knight buried his masked face in him.
Batman expected the Knight to break with him, to shatter and hurt if only just for now, but the arms that held him were not desperate, his breath was not ragged. He was protective and warm and when the tears stopped choking him but ran silently down his face he could hear the Knight whisper in a voice that broke and shattered him and made him whole again.