A/N: So I read Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? a couple of days ago and just had to write something. I decided on this, a very belated DKR reaction fic I banged out in about five minutes, because after reading the comic, I sort of saw the ending in a brand new light. I think this fic stands pretty well on its own, but it still spoils Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? so if you haven't read it but plan to, do that first. If you haven't read the comic and don't plan to, do it first anyway. It is seriously brilliant. The title of this story is taken from the comic, sort of. Enjoy!
Goodnight, Caped Crusader
They're gathered in a building both strange and familiar to Bruce. He knows he's never been here before but at the same time, it feels like he's been here dozens of times. There are five other men in the room with him; maybe six. For some reason it's hard to keep track.
He's dreaming. That's why.
There are several rows of chairs and the men sit scattered around the room, all facing the same direction, their backs to Bruce. But he doesn't need to see their faces to recognize them.
One of them stands at the front of the room, his head bowed. Behind him is an open coffin. He raises his head and opens his mouth to address the others.
"We are gathered here today," he starts, "not to mourn but to celebrate the legacy of a great man."
He keeps speaking but Bruce is only half-listening. He looks around the room. It feels like there are more people here now than there were before. All of them sit unmoving, some of them holding their heads high but others slumped in their seats, looking exhausted. They all wear cowls although the ears differ in size and shape.
Copycats, Bruce thinks at first but he dismisses the notion. They're all undeniably the real thing, although how that's possible is uncertain.
One by one, they get up and speak. They talk about devotion and sacrifice, of never giving up even in the face of insurmountable odds. Bruce grows uncomfortable. He doesn't belong here with the others.
Just as he's beginning to think of ways to sneak out, the speaker at the front turns to him. "Bruce? Would you like to say anything?"
Bruce wouldn't, but he nods and gets up. His legs are reluctant to move as he walks towards the front of the room but he pushes through. He can feel the others' eyes on him, some of them hidden behind white lenses but others bare.
He reaches the coffin and the other man takes his seat in the front row.
"I don't have a speech prepared," Bruce admits. "I didn't think I'd ever have the opportunity to attend this funeral. I can't say that I'm glad I did."
He turns his head slightly and looks into the coffin. There's nothing there but a cowl and a cape.
"Batman wasn't a great man. He was a lot more than that." Bruce clears his throat, guilt churning in his gut and making it difficult to speak. But he has to keep speaking, to say what he came here to say. It's the least he can do. "Batman was a symbol. As such he was supposed to be indestructible. Yet here we are.
"And the reason we're here, is... is because of me. Because unlike any of you, I couldn't handle it. I took the coward's way out. I killed the Batman."
A deafening silence follows his statement. Then then man in the front row stands up. The ears on his cowl are large and far apart, and his cape flows stiffly from his shoulders.
"The reason we're here today," he corrects, his voice deep but smooth, "is because the Batman gave his life for you. You didn't kill him."
"The Batman's life belonged to Gotham," Bruce protests. "I had no right to claim it as my own."
Another man stands. His cape is blue and the bright color sticks out like a sore thumb in a room full of black. "Batman has given his life to Gotham a dozen times over. You are unlike the rest of us, not because you took the coward's way out but because you found a solution. Bruce Wayne has always died with the Batman, until now."
Bruce shakes his head. "That's the way it's supposed to be. I never should have tried to cheat destiny."
"You know we don't believe in destiny," one of the men in the third row laughs. "We make our own. You turned out to be better at it than us, there's no shame in that."
The man from the front row walks up to Bruce and removes his cowl, revealing a face identical to Bruce's own.
"The Batman will always be there to protect Gotham," he says resolutely. "But it's time he did it without Bruce Wayne."
There's really nothing Bruce can say to that.
The other Bruce smiles. "Goodbye, Bruce."
Bruce closes his eyes in a warehouse in Gotham and opens them in a one bedroom apartment in Florence. Next to him he can hear Selina breathing softly, still fast asleep.
He closes his eyes again and it's as if the weight of the world has been lifted from his shoulders.
"The end of the story of Batman is, he's dead. Because, in the end, the Batman dies. What else am I gonna do? Retire and play golf? It doesn't work that way. It can't. I fight until I drop. And one day, I willdrop."
- Bruce Wayne, Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?