This update took far longer than I promised, and for that I apologize with all that is dear to me. It took me FOREVER to get this chapter to come out right. Every draft always felt either too melodramatic or not dramatic enough. That combined with my computer crapping out on me, this update wasn't finished nearly as soon as I would have liked.
That being said, it is the grand conclusion to Bucket List. I wrestled for a very long time with how I wanted the story to end, and I finally came to my conclusion. Enjoy! Oh, and a special thanks to all my reviewers for making this my first fic with 100+ reviews!
Chapter Eleven: Forever
With some mental suggestion by J'onn, the doctors had "forgotten" that the patient they were operating on, Bruce Wayne, had come in dressed as Batman. Everyone knew that Bruce would want to die with his secret. He would want his identity preserved. "Why won't they let me in?" Diana asked frantically, pacing back and forth down the hallway.
"He isn't even conscious. There wouldn't be a whole lot of point." Tim attempted to reason, as he was programmed to do, but there was still pain his eyes, buried beneath the defeatist logic.
"I need to see him." Diana said quietly, and then repeated, "I need to see him."
Clark took her hands in his, gently. "He'll be fine Diana." He said it so assuredly, even though he strongly suspected it to be a lie. "Bruce is always fine."
The windows shook under the force of the winds outside, heavy rain pounding against the structure of the building. The storm had arrived suddenly, bringing with it a slew of violence. Powerful gusts of wind repeatedly assaulted the hospital, as if punishing the structure for standing in its defiant opposition of nature's might. A grim silence fell over the group. The sound of chattering doctors and nurses could vaguely be heard echoing through the halls, resonating with the patter of the rain to form a sort of melodic tone, as if mocking the chaotic atmosphere of the waiting room.
"This is bullshit." Dick got up from his seat. "I'm going in. I don't care what they say."
"Dick." Barbara said his name in a tone that was not harsh but still demanded attention. "Bruce wouldn't want us to cause trouble. Please sit back down."
Dick stared at her for a long moment, grinding his teeth. Finally, he exhaled and returned to a sitting position. "Fine."
Another silence fell upon them. Everyone except for Jason Todd had come immediately to the hospital. Jason had simply vanished. Not much later, Alfred had arrived, soaking wet from the rain, his face heavy with worry. Now the old man sat in the corner of the waiting, silent, fidgeting with his gloves awkwardly.
Finally, a nurse approached the group. "He's fully conscious now. He refuses to take any more pain killers; he doesn't want his senses dulled. But keep in mind that he is extreme pain."
"Does that mean we can see him?" Wally perked up hopefully.
"Yes." The nurse nodded.
Immediately, the large group sprang to their feet and moved hastily to the room where Bruce Wayne was located. Without hesitation, the visitors parted, allowing Diana to enter the room first. When she saw him, he was hardly recognizable.
Bruce lay still on the neatly made hospital bed. His jet black hair was now brittle and graying. His normally muscular physique had been depleted, to the point where he was little more than a fleshy skeleton. Several different tubes pumped fluid into his body, and he had been strapped to a device to aid his breathing. The only sounds in the room were the respiratory machine, and the gentle blip of his heart beat monitor that was not beeping nearly as often as it should have. His eyes had none of the brightness and vigor that she had grown so accustomed to; rather, they were hazy and defeated. The fire that burned within Bruce Wayne had died.
"Bruce…" She choked, the tears coming on without warning.
He looked at her, and a flash of recognition appeared in his withered gaze, but his mouth was covered by an oxygen mask that prevented him from clearly speaking. He knew that she wouldn't be able to understand a single word he said, so he didn't even try.
Diana sat down next to him and took his hand in hers. He was cold. Deathly cold. She couldn't even feel his pulse, no matter how hard she tried. His heart was growing weaker and weaker by the second. "I'm sorry." She said finally, tears streaming down her face. Bruce still did not respond, he only gazed into her eyes. His face was filled with pain, but nonetheless he bore a look of understanding.
"Bruce, I am so sorry for being so angry at you. I was afraid. Wally put it best; I was afraid because I'd already forgiven you. And I didn't understand that. But I understand it now." She squeezed his hand tighter. "Bruce, I love you. I love you so very, very much."
Bruce nodded, an action that appeared to cause him great pain. He tried to respond, tried to tell her that he loved her too, but he couldn't speak through the mask the doctors had strapped to his face. So instead, he continued to stare into her eyes, and let his own eyes speak for him.
"There's so much that I want to say, Bruce. But..." She choked back a sob, "I know there isn't much time. And I don't want to deprive anyone else of their time with you."
Diana stood up, and motioned for everyone else to come in. They entered in a linear fashion; Alfred, Wally, Dick, Tim, Barbara, Clark.
"Master Bruce." Alfred smiled, but there was an enormous amount of pain in his eyes. "Who would have guessed I would outlive you?" The old butler sat down next to Bruce. "I wish I hadn't. I wish I'd-" Alfred choked, and after a long pause, changed the subject. "I raised you from eight year old. I can't say I approved of everything you did, but I always supported you." The old man was holding back so many tears that he could hardly speak any longer, so he simply nodded. Bruce nodded back. That was all Alfred needed to say. The old man got to his feet, and stepped back.
Wally knelt down. "Hey buddy, I know you probably want to see more of your family and everything… so I'll be quick. We weren't friends all that long, in fact, for most of my life you scared the living shit out of me… but my uncle Barry loved you. You were one of his greatest friends in the world. And these last few weeks, I've come to understand why." Wally flashed his famous grin. "You're my best friend Bruce."
Wally stood up and let Dick sit down. "Hi." Dick muttered uncomfortably. "I… I know we didn't always get along that well. That was entirely due to my own arrogance and stupidity, and for every time I ever defied, I am sorry." Dick said so genuinely, but then quickly added, "Except for the times I was right, of course."
Suddenly, Dick's wall of masculinity came crashing down, and he started to cry for the first time during the whole mess. "I love you dad."
Barbara rested her hand on Dick's shoulder, and soon he stood up. "What can I say?" Barbara smiled at Bruce. "You were like a second father to me. A father who let me fight dangerous super criminals and carry around dangerous weapons. I don't think my gratitude for that can be expressed in words."
With that, Barbara knelt down and kissed Bruce on the cheek. Tim sat down next. "I don't really know what to say that Dick and Babs already haven't. You understood me like nobody else ever could, Bruce. I can't thank you enough for that. You entrusted your company to me, and I'll take good care of it. I promise."
Finally, Clark stepped forward. "You and I have never been all that in-touch with our emotions, Bruce." Clark smiled. "I know that you would not want me to change that now. So… I'll leave it at this…" Clark paused a moment. "I'll miss you, old friend."
Bruce wanted to speak. He wanted to badly to respond to all of them, to tell them what needed to be said, but he couldn't. He couldn't get any words out through that damn mask.
"I'll pick up the slack in Gotham." Dick told him. "Tim can run Wayne Enterprises, and I'll take over as Batman. There are a few ties I'll have to cut with my friends in Bludhaven, and then-"
As soon as these words left Dick's mouth, Bruce began to shout. They couldn't understand him through the muffling of the mask, and in frustration Bruce began to thrash around wildly. A doctor rushed into the room, and a nurse began to usher the group out. "You all need to go now. I'm very sorry." She said as the doctor injected Bruce with a powerful sedative.
Reluctantly and in tears, the group left. Bruce continued to fight. He could feel the sedative taking effect, pulling him into a deep, sleepy abyss. His vision began to go dark, and his mind became numb. No. He thought defiantly, continuing in his struggle. Fighting the sedative, Bruce gathered all the strength he could find and pushed himself up from the bed. Everything hurt. He couldn't even feel his own heart beat anymore; just an agonizing pain that attacked every fiber of his being.
"Mr. Wayne, please lay back down." The doctor insisted, grabbing Bruce's shoulders. Bruce forced the doctor off of him, and ripped the IV out of himself. Fighting the pain, battling the urge to sleep, Bruce yanked the mask off of his face and wobbled onto his feet.
"Mr. Wayne you are you not strong enough to-" The nurse protested, but Bruce pushed past her and lumbered out of the room. He moved as quickly as he could manage, the pain growing stronger with every step he took. His will was the only thing keeping his body in motion. With the last of his strength, Bruce made it into the lobby, heaved the double doors open, and stumbled out into the parking lot outside the hospital. The rain clattered down heavily, drenching his hospital gown immediately. Thunder blasted, and a sopping wet Bruce Wayne fell painfully onto the concrete. He cried out in agony, "Dick!"
"Oh my God!" Diana's voice sounded over the heavy thumping of the rain.
"What the hell Bruce?" Someone shouted; Bruce couldn't decide who.
Everyone surrounded him. Diana held Bruce's head in her lap. He was bleeding through his chest now. The blood mixed with the rainwater, and spread over the majority of Bruce's body, seeping off onto the concrete. Diana was sobbing, but Bruce stroked her face with his hand. "I… L- love… you." He coughed, his voice weak. He repeated it several times.
Diana nodded, unable to speak. "I know." She finally managed.
"Dick…" Bruce looked up at the former Robin.
"What is it?" Dick asked, his voice wavering.
"Don't… D- don't…."
"Don't forget who you are. Don't ever forget who you are." Bruce pleaded. "Don't become Batman just to honor me. Please, please don't do that. You're a better man than me Dick… I believe that more strongly than you can even imagine. You don't have to be me, Dick. Be you. If you want honor than please, for the love of God, just be you."
"Okay." Dick nodded, holding back tears as best he could. "Okay. I won't forget. I promise."
"Alfred," Bruce searched for the old butler, and once his eyes found him, they did not leave. "I know that you wish you'd died before me, but don't think that way Alfred… please do not do that to me. I prefer it this way. You're my best friend Al… I want it this way."
"Yes, Bruce." Alfred feigned a smile.
"Tim, you have so much potential. You're smarter than me Tim. You really are." Bruce coughed, his whole body trembled. "I know you'll do great things Tim. There is no doubt in my mind. You will do great things that I could never have even imagined… and my only regret is that I won't be there to see it."
Bruce directed his gaze to Clark. "Thanks for not getting all emotional on me."
"No problem Bruce." Clark smiled, but there were tears on his face.
"Keep us all safe boy scout." Bruce managed a smile, and finally, he looked to Wally. "Wally West… you hyperactive, short-sighted dumbass." Bruce's smile widened, and he said, "Thank you so much Wally. Thank you for helping me live. Thank you for helping me be happy."
"Yeah." Wally smiled back. "You know what? You really are like the Grinch. You finally learn to be happy, and then your heart blows up."
Bruce laughed, despite the immense pain this caused him. Between the bouts of laughter he said, "Shut up Wally." Then he looked back up at Diana, one last time, cold and shivering. "I wish we could have had more time."
"I know." Diana answered, squeezing his hand. "It's alright."
"I love you Diana." Bruce squeezed back. "Forever." His heart stopped cold. The light faded from his eyes, and his hand went limp.
Bruce Wayne died.
The Next Night – Bludhaven
Dick Grayson sat alone in his apartment, silent, as he had been all day. He stared down at the old photograph he kept. The photograph of the family. In the front there stood him, Barbara and a very young Tim. Bruce was behind them all, a genuine smile on his face. And Alfred was off to the corner, his usual smug grin showing.
A tear dripped onto the photo.
"Is he dead?" A voice asked from behind. Dick turned to see Jason Todd standing in his apartment, having crawled in through the open.
"Yes." Dick replied after a moment. He wasn't necessarily surprised. "You'd know that if you hadn't run off like you did."
"I'm not good with crowds." Jason stared down at his feet.
"You know, despite everything, I think Bruce actually wanted you there."
"I know." Jason said solemnly. "But… why should I start doing what he wants now, right?" He attempted to hide the pain in his voice, but failed miserably. After a moment, Jason finally said, "I miss him too you know. Sure, we had our differences but… he was still the closest thing to a father I ever had."
"It's such bullshit." Jason clenched his fists. "A good man like Bruce dies so young, and then there are bastards like me… why the hell am I still alive? God knows I don't deserve it. Bullshit."
"It's not too late for you Jason." Dick said seriously. "Bruce never quit believing in you, you know."
"Yeah. I just quit believing in myself." Jason finally looked up. "So are you going to take up the mantle?"
"I don't know yet." Dick replied immediately. "I don't know if it's what I want yet."
"Look me up when you decide. Because if you don't… somebody needs to."
"Jason… you aren't seriously considering…?"
"The world needs a Batman." Jason shrugged. "But you deserve it more than I do. I know that."
"Well… I don't know yet." Dick sighed, looking back at the photograph. "It's Saturday, you know."
"Is that an invitation?"
"You don't need an invitation Jason." Dick looked back at him. "Believe it or not, you're still part of the family."
"Is that right?" Jason grinned. "Damn, you must all have some really low standards."
"Will you be there are not?"
"Yeah." Jason sighed. "I'll be there."
And then, as suddenly as he had appeared, Jason Todd was gone.
The "official' funeral had taken place earlier that day. The funeral where Bruce Wayne was buried next to his parents, the funeral where all of Gotham's wealthy socialites showed up and pretended to mourn their fallen drinking buddy. It was a funeral for Bruce Wayne, but not the real Bruce Wayne. This had been a funeral for the billionaire, borderline-alcoholic playboy Bruce Wayne who the public thought was real.
The funeral for the true Bruce Wayne took place at the grave site much later. It was comprised of the people who Bruce actually knew and cared about. Fellow Leaguers, other heroes, the sort. They all gathered in their civilian guises, knelt before Bruce Wayne's gravestone, and said their goodbyes.
To the surprise of many, Jason Todd had arrived at the funeral. He remained silent for the entire time, not speaking to anyone even once. He simply stared at the gravestone, and remembered his brief and turbulent time as Robin. And he thought about how he would give anything in the world to have that time back.
Everyone expected either Dick or Tim or Barbara to speak, but none of them did. There was nothing for them to say that Bruce hadn't already heard, and that was the all they needed. However, three people were lined up to speak; Alfred Pennyworth, Wally West, and Diana Prince.
Alfred went up first. He looked like he hadn't slept in a week. The old man stood in front of Bruce's grave, and waited for everyone to quiet down. And then he began; "I am a butler. I come from a long lineage of butlers. When Thomas Wayne offered me a full-time job at the Wayne Manor, I was certainly excited. But the outcome was nothing like what I would have expected. I expected a well-paying job, a decent sized room to live, meals to cook, and floors to clean. But then Thomas Wayne died. And I got a son. Young Bruce Wayne was a troubled boy. I don't mean to self-aggrandize, but if it weren't for my guidance, I'm quite sure the young man would have committed suicide.
"At first, I saw Bruce as a means to keep my job at the mansion. I had no idea at the time how much I would come to love him. When he revealed to me his intentions of becoming a vigilante, I did not agree with this decision, but I did support it with all that was dear to me, because Bruce had become dear to me. I watched him grow from a troubled, orphaned young boy into an intelligent, motivated man who did more good with his life than I can even describe. And I could not be more proud to have been a part of it. During my long tenure as Bruce's butler, I amassed a great deal of money. Bruce was never shy with my paycheck. I became a wealthy man myself, but I never once thought to retire, because I loved being a part of Bruce's life. And now that he is gone… I get my own small fortune, I get the mansion, I get a large share of his belongings... but I would give it all away in an instant if it meant that I could have one more day with Bruce Wayne."
Alfred looked as if he had more to say, but could not hold back his tears any longer, and stepped down. After a moment, Wally West stepped in front of Bruce's grave. "Wow… I don't know if I can top that." The crowd chuckled a little.
"Alright," Wally began, "I wrote this big, long, flattering eulogy… but then I ripped it up. Because no eulogy on this Earth could give Bruce Wayne the honor he deserves. In an attempt to at least get close… I'm just going to speak from my heart." Wally paused a moment, then continued. "Bruce Wayne scared the living hell out of me. Seriously. You could take Hitler, throw him into a pot with Vlad the Imapler and sprinkle Fear Gas in before you stir… and the result still would not be as scary as the Batman. And not only was he frightening, but God was he pretentious! I swear, Bruce Wayne wouldn't take a piss without meticulously planning every detail, and having at least three contingency plans. Not to mention he was vain. The dude was rich and good looking, and boy did he know it. Arrogant too! Bruce Wayne was the most arrogant bastard you'd ever meet.
"But you know what? In the last few weeks of his life, Bruce Wayne was my best friend. Because once you peel away all that ugly, crusty stuff on the surface, you realize that you're looking at an intelligent, compassionate individual who wants nothing less than the best for everyone. He wanted it so bad that he destroyed himself trying to achieve safety for all of us. He may have been vain, arrogant, pretentious, scary… but he was never selfish. Everything he ever did was for the good of everyone else. He never once put his needs over anyone else's, and that's why he died as young as he did. When Bruce found out that he was dying, the two of us made a deal. I would teach Bruce how to enjoy what remained of his life. During that time, we were arrested by Egyptian police, thrown out of a casino, and became dangerously intoxicated in the middle of a desert while launching off the most illegal fireworks you'll ever see. Oh, and we got into a fist fight at my house, during which we destroyed most of my possessions and I obtained a broken nose." There was more laughter from the crowd.
"But in the midst of it all, Bruce Wayne gave money to my family simply because we needed it, asking nothing in return. He saved my family, as well as a whole school bus of kids and a handful of other people, while he was dying, and in doing so he showed me what real heroism is. I only hope that I can become a fraction of the man Bruce Wayne was. Because he was the finest human being I've ever had the privilege of knowing. When he died, it was in a hospital parking lot, because he got up out of his room and left, simply because he decided that he wasn't quite done with us yet. He gave Death the finger, and Death was so scared of him that he just stood back and waited until Bruce said what he wanted to say. That right there, my friends, is a great man. And now, I'm going to get outta' here to make room for a great woman… a woman who Bruce Wayne loved more than anything in the world. Ladies and gentlemen, please take a minute to forget my half-assed eulogy, and welcome the love of Bruce's life… Diana Prince."
Diana took the stand then, and the whole crowd was immediately silent. Regardless, she waited a few moments before beginning. It was obvious by the redness in her eyes that she had been crying, but appeared determined to hold herself together now. "Hello." She finally started. "Many of you did not get to see Bruce and I together. I'm sure that most of you think it was a bizarre pairing. And let me tell you this… you are absolutely right. Because in many respects, Bruce and I should have been incompatible. But we found love anyway. Now, I can't tell you our love story. Because, like any good love story, it will die with us, just as it should. So instead, I'm going to do something that will inevitably make me seem like a terrible person; I'm going to talk about myself.
"When I first met Bruce several years ago, I never once pictured us together. In fact, I always saw Superman as a more likely candidate for romance. That is a classic example of how power is blinding. It seemed like Superman and I should have been together, because we were both powerful. But really, there was no other reason beyond that. We were both powerful, and so it made sense. But like Wally told me not too long ago… love doesn't make sense. The reason I'm telling you all of this is because it's what made Bruce the greatest of us all. My ideas of compatibility were based largely on power. Bruce didn't have power. No like the rest of us. Bruce was a regular human being. A man among gods. And that was why I eventually fell for him. Because Bruce was not powerful, he was not immortal, he was not invulnerable… he was just a man. And yet he walked among the powerful, he battled against the powerful, without any fear. And even more amazing is that, somehow, it really did make sense. Because he was Bruce Wayne. That's what made him powerful. Not alien heritage, or magic or divine intervention or some freak lab accident. Bruce was powerful all by himself. Bruce was powerful simply by being Bruce.
"That's why it seems so strange, now, that he was killed by disease. He battled gods, he defeated armies, he took on the most dangerous beings in all of existence without even being afraid! And after all of it, he was killed by such a common, human weakness. Disease. How? It's just another thing that doesn't make sense. The more I got to know Bruce, the more I grew to understand that nothing really makes sense. Especially not love. Like I said, I can't tell you our love story, because it's ours. But here's what I can tell you; I loved Bruce Wayne. Despite all reason, despite all logic, I loved him. And when I fell in love, that was when I learned something else that doesn't make sense… death. It's random, it cannot be reasoned with, and it is soul-crushingly inevitable. Another thing I learned is that forever doesn't necessarily mean eternity. Bruce once told me that we, as humans, view time the wrong way. He explained to me that while we see time in a linear fashion, it is actually happening all at once… the past, the present, and the future are all happening right now, at the same time, we just can't see it. We can't see eternity, and we don't know what it has in store for us, but we can see forever.
"Forever doesn't mean 'eternity.' Forever means 'everlasting.' Bruce and I can't have eternity, even I'm bound to die at some point, but we can have forever. We can't love for all eternity because we don't live that long, but we can love forever, because love is everlasting. We don't know what the future has in store for us, and we have no way of ever knowing. All that we do know is the present. We know what we have right now. And it's good that we have the present, so we can start building our forever.
"Bruce died in my arms. He bled on my hands, and I felt it when his heart quit beating. I looked into his eyes when he died, and I saw our forever. I don't think about the life we could have had, because there's no point in that. Instead, I think about the life we did have. It seems like a short one, but that's because we think linearly. Since the past, present, and future are all happening at the same time… that means that while I loved Bruce in the past, it was also happening in the future, just as its happening now, in the present.
"When he died, Bruce told me that he wished we had more time. And of course I do too. I would trade anything in the world, anything, for just one more day with him. But I can't, because while our love is forever, eternity won't allow it. I will always miss him. I will always cherish the time I had with him. And I will always hurt over losing him. Those are my three definitives in a world where nothing else is definite. Thank you, Bruce Wayne… for giving me our little forever."