We own the rights to nothing.
It has been said that time heals all wounds. I do not agree. The wound remains. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens but it is never gone.
The sun doesn't shine in Gotham. That's what everybody said, tourists with a sense of wonderment tinged with disgust and residents with a resigned acceptance. When it wasn't dark clouds of an oncoming storm, one of the few cleanings of the refuse-ridden streets, it was the smog pumped into the sky by the factories. Spires of glass and steel scratched at the belly of the heavens, striving for a goal they did not have a hope of reaching. Their bases were caked in blood and grime, but the wealthy, the corpulent who could afford the aeries of the city, paid to avoid such reminders. Others reveled in the filth, encouraged it and flourished in the moral decay that plagued the realm. Stench was only marginally thicker than the traffic that clogged the streets, and no amount of money could mask the omnipresent odor. Trapped in the shadows of Gotham's towers, the inhabitants of the streets never received a chance to grow into something more, to reach beyond the squalor that they were nearly suffocating in. Still, it was home, a young Bruce Wayne reminded himself as he finished mooring the Singapore ship that he had managed to catch a ride with.
Shouting a farewell to the crewmates, he shouldered his duffel bag and headed inland, towards the dark towers and overflowing streets. Winding through the maze of warehouses and crates, he traversed through the waterfront district, heading for the howling highway interspersed with the bark of car horns. He winced at the roar of the engines, but he smiled at the sight of the long dark car parked on the side of the road, accompanied by a lean, dapper man with a thin, black moustache.
"Master Bruce," the smartly dressed man nodded in greeting, a definite contrast to the rough crew that patrolled the docks.
"Alfred," he gave a somber smile as he approached the elder man, clasping him in a quick, tight hug that pushed the air out of the butler. He pulled back and smiled at his caretaker, "It's good to see you."
"Master Bruce, they've spent the last two years of your sabbatical trying to convince me you were dead. 'Good' does not even begin to describe it," he answered wryly.
Bruce had the grace to look abashed as he shrugged, "Well, I'm not expecting to stay long. Just going to prove that I'm alive and then I'm back out in the world."
"Hmmm," mused Alfred, opening the backdoor of the car. Bruce tossed his duffelbag inside and followed after automatically before the elder man closed the door behind him and then entered the driver's seat. The engine growled to life, the sound smooth and easy, and it rolled confidently into the bustling traffic. Weaving through the congested roads, the dark car moved with sleek purpose towards the outskirts of the city where the buildings were not as thick. Dirt and trees replaced pavement and skyscrapers, and Bruce relaxed in the backseat as he admired the scenery.
"If you don't mind me asking, sir, what is it you've been up to while on your journey around the world?" Alfred asked, looking up into the rearview mirror.
"Training," he answered simply, chin in hand.
"For what, sir?"
"Preparing for the future."
"And I presume this training was, in part, on how to be cryptic?"
He laughed, "Yeah, something like that."
"What about you, Alfred? How've you been doing?"
"Maintaining the lonely halls of Wayne Manor, sir. It'll do some good for it to have feet other than mine wandering it," he mused. "Even if only for a short while."
"I wish I could stay longer," Bruce murmured, his voice growing soft as the ancestral home suddenly filled his window's view. Designed back in 1795 by Nathan van Derm for Bruce's ancestor, Darius Wayne, the cathedral-like manor had survived for centuries as one of Gotham's finest architectural achievements. Its underground was infested with tunnels, the Catacombs, which had once served as a portion of the Underground Railroad and, in Bruce's youth, a place to explore and play in. The grounds remained immaculate, even in the years of his absence and the building dredged forth both a great sense of loss and joy, memories of racing through the spacious rooms and hallways, hiding from his father in a forever repeated game.
More memories drifted forth and bound him to his seat for an instant even as the car stopped and Alfred opened the door. He was torn from his reverie when the butler finally spoke, "Master Bruce, are you all right?"
He shook his head and emerged from the car with his duffelbag in tow. "Yeah, yeah. I'm fine."
"I'll tend to your bag as you freshen up, Master Bruce. I don't want to think about what scent has latched onto you from that ship," Alfred suggested to the teenager. The boy shook his head and shouldered his large pack.
"It's cool. I'll take it up to the guest room myself."
"Guest room?" the consummate butler arched a brow. "I should think not, Master Bruce."
"I'm not going to be here that long."
"You are staying in your own room, Master Bruce. I just cleaned it today."
"I'm also afraid that the guest rooms are in terrible disarray. Truly horrendous."
Bruce narrowed his eyes as the dapper man opened the door and gave a light smile, "Really, Alfred? You expect me to believe that you'd let anything in your care fall into 'disarray?'"
"That's the story, Master Bruce, and I'm sticking to it."
A chuckle spilled from Bruce's lips as he stepped into the massive foyer and froze, suddenly awash with sights, sounds, and smells of old. His mother's voice summoning him to the table for a meal from the bottom of the stairs, the faint scent of smoke wafting from the nearby den, the bustle of servants as they prepared for another charity ball. Then just as suddenly as it washed over him, it was gone as Alfred laid a hand upon his shoulder.
"Did you need a minute, Master Bruce?"
Giving a sigh that he didn't mean to be so shaky, the youth shook his head again, "No. I'm good. Just, uh . . . my room. It – it's to the left, right?"
"That is correct, Master Bruce. Do you require anything else?"
"Then I shall let you settle in while I prepare dinner. Anything in particular you'd like?"
"Heh," Bruce chuckled, "Something American. I've had everything but for the past few years."
"Something deep-fried, drowning in its own grease, and more likely to induce a heart attack than provide you with any nutritional value. A wise choice, Master Bruce," Alfred nodded before setting off towards the kitchen. Bruce gave another short laugh, lifted the duffelbag higher onto his shoulder, and proceeded up the stairs.
He wandered down the hall, regarded the portraits of his ancestors, all the way back to Anthony Wayne, a hero of the Revolutionary War, to Solomon Wayne, attired in his judge's robes and wig, to Bruce's own mother and father. He paused at their portrait, saw that even in the medium of paint their love for each other was obvious. His lids clenched shut as a woman screamed, her voice cut short by the flash of the muzzle as it spat out another bullet. Her body crumpling against the wet pavement of Park Row, joining her husband, reaching for him with her last action.
Before he could sink any further into the memory, Bruce shook his head and continued towards his old room. He opened the door and studied the solid grey walls that he had painted mere months before departing for his sojourn. Everything was much as he had left it, the machinations of Alfred no doubt even the toys and books of his childhood that perched upon the shelves. His gaze swung to the large bed with its fresh seats and he only gave enough time to kick off his shoots, toss his bag into the corner, and leap atop them before he let the best sleep he'd had in years claim him, even with all the ghosts that stalked the mansion's halls.
Dinner had been a short, but pleasant, affair in which Bruce had devoured more pizza, and quicker, than he probably should have before retiring for the evening. However, back in the room, he found sleep did not come as easily to him as it had that afternoon, and after nearly an hour of laying in his bed, he rose. Trading his sweatpants for dark cargo pants and slipping a hooded jacket over his grey muscle shirt, he searched his bag for a moment. He pulled out a pair of climber's gloves and climbing shoes, and quickly pulled them on before descending out the window, an action he had grown more accustomed to over the use of a door. Closing the window, he scaled the wall of the manor and dropped noiselessly to the ground before setting off on a brisk pace towards Gotham.
In the squad car, Detective Gordon wrinkled his nose at the acrid smell of smoke and turned to the burly rookie at his side.
"I swear, Bullock, if you don't put that thing out, I'm going to make you eat it."
The lantern-jawed heavyset officer of the law, who seemed far too young to be smoking the fat cigar that jutted from his lips, grumbled, "Ah, come on, Gordy. Don't deny me my vices."
"By the looks of it, somebody has to. And if you ever call me 'Gordy' again, I'll drop you off at Crime Alley and make you walk back to the station," grumbled the senior member of the duo.
"Pfft," Harvey Bullock huffed, "I could handle it."
Despite the flippant attitude, the young cop rolled down his window and tossed his cigar into the alley's street before sighing and settling back into his seat. He was, blissfully as far as Gordon was concerned, silent for a moment, but the silence soon grew to be too much for him and he asked, "So why are we just sitting here? We waiting for something to go down?"
"You grow up in Gotham, Bullock?"
"Born and raised."
Gordon nodded, "Then I'm sure you've noticed that in this town, there's always something going down. Always. You try to trace down every little thing, you're just going to be running yourself into an early grave. So we're waiting for the most pertinent call of tonight."
"Huh," Bullock grunted as he looked forward again. Only two hours into their patrol and Gordon was beginning to regret accepting the task of looking after the rookie. He doubted that any favor would be worth what he was being put through and he removed his glasses to pinch the bridge of his nose. Suddenly, the younger man leaned forward and Gordon's eyes snapped open.
"Hey, did you see that?"
"There was, like, a guy or something. He just jumped between rooftops."
Gordon arched a brow as he regarded him, "Bullock, you haven't officially been a member of the GCPD longer than a week. It's way too early to start seeing things."
"I wasn't seeing things," he protested. "There was a guy -"
The radio squawked to life and Gordon leapt at the chance to answer it as the dispatcher announced, "Units, we have a 246 over on Khe Sanh and North High Street, please respond . . ."
"This is Gordon. We're two blocks away, en route," he reported before turning on the sirens and roaring out of the alley.
Racing across a rooftop, Bruce glanced towards the blaring squad car with its flashing lights that passed by on the street below before focusing on his path. He bounded off the radiator atop the roof, alighting upon the structure housing the stairwell from which he sprung across to the next roof, rolling across it to minimize the force. Smoothly ending up on his feet, he sprinted across the building and readied himself for the next leap. The buildings of Gotham City were clustered close together with barely enough room to breathe between them, making his free running experience far easier than it had been in the other locales where he had practiced it.
He raced across the buildings, breathing in Gotham again for the first time in years, the air searing his lungs. On the streets below, he glimpsed drug peddlers and prostitutes, calling out to entice passersby who pretended they weren't there or responded all too eagerly to their advances. There were thugs posturing on street corners, daring rivals to make a move on them. All of it had Bruce clenching his fists, blanching his knuckles beneath the gloves as he pushed his body harder, ran faster. Vaulting the gaps between the buildings, he let the rage at the filth boil over, permitted it to consume him for a second. Then the theater came into view.
It had been shut down in his absence, its lights dark and its windows boarded. He had no memory of choosing this path, but his subconscious had guided him to the once prosperous portion of Gotham City. To an alley drowning in its own filth where two of the most affluent and generous member of Gotham's elite had been gunned down for a necklace of pearls that they would have freely given. To where a child had lost not only his parents, but his innocence and much of his faith in humanity.
"Hey, what the Hell are you doing up here?"
Bruce turned at the feminine tone, rounding upon the curvaceous, mocha-skinned girl who studied him suspiciously with crystal blue eyes. A black jacket fitted snugly to her body, leaving a strip of smooth flesh between before the snug jeans encircling her broad hips. The fur-lined hood of the jacket was down, revealing short, jagged ebony hair that had a tomboyish cut to it. Hanging about her neck was a pair of amber goggles, and her hands were shoved into the pockets of her light jacket. Her attire was not designed for conservation of body heat, but it did portray her slender, toned body in a most distracting fashion, which forced her to repeat her question.
"Hey! I said what are you doing up here?"
"Nothing," he answered, turning back towards the alley.
His stern tone did not dissuade her though it did soften hers before her next question, "You new around here?"
"Well, I ain't ever seen your face before."
"'Aren't,'" he corrected automatically.
She scoffed, "Great, you're one of those, huh?"
He glanced back at her, "One of what?"
"Sticklers," she grumbled, "Always following rules, always making sure everything is prim and proper. The boring type."
"Boring," he repeated before laughing softly and shaking his head. "Yeah, don't I wish."
"Oh, so pretty boy's got a few secrets?" she purred, joining him on the ledge and angling herself to study his face.
"Exactly. Secrets. As in, the sort don't get shared," he nodded.
"Ooh. Cute boy, brooding mysteriously, and keeping secrets. Now you got my interest piqued."
"Careful," he cautioned, "Curiosity killed the cat."
"Well, it's a good thing she's got eight more."
The banter was interrupted by the door of the stairwell being slammed open by a younger girl, obviously Bruce's current conversationalist's relation, with long, shaggy hair. She bellowed, "Selina! Dinner's ready! Hurry up before Kyle eats it all!"
"Jeez, Mags, you trying to wake the whole neighborhood?" snapped the elder of the girls. "I'll be right down. And you tell Kyle that if he eats everything, I'll start adding ex-lax again!"
"All right," she called back as she pulled the door shut.
With a sigh, Selina stretched her lithe frame, pushing out her chest as she cracked her back, and Bruce tried, with admittedly minimal effort, to resist the urge to subtly fixate upon the voluptuous presentation. She relaxed and gave a slight chuckle as she turned, trailing her fingers across his shoulder, "See you 'round, handsome. Try not to mope around for too long. Doesn't do anybody no good."
"Whatever," she retorted before pulling the door shut behind her. Bruce couldn't help the chuckle and he shook his head before looking towards the street where an elderly woman struggled with her groceries and the steps to her apartment building. Suddenly, one of the street toughs broke away from his pack, racing over to hold her bags, permitting her to open the door. Amidst a shower of thanks, he followed her into the building, groceries in hand. The scene brought a small smile to Bruce's face and as he took off over the roofs once again, it wasn't rage that fueled him.
Bruce fought sleep as he sat at the long wooden table, flanked by Alfred and the lawyers naturally retained by the Wayne family. The room was stuffy as semantics were traded back and forth, legalities that seemed to suck away at his very life force.
"As you can all see, the young Wayne is alive and well. Now cease these preposterous claims to the fortune," demanded the white-haired man with a leathery face. The men and women across the table traded glances, most of them turning to the scarecrow-thin Mr. Shaw, a sharp-faced man with icy eyes. He squinted at the teenage boy across the table who yawned lethargically in response before sighing.
"We will need to authenticate the legitimacy of this claim. We shall be contacting you within the next two weeks to set up a meeting."
Seemingly as one, the company of lawyers rose from their seats and filed from the room. After the door had rattled shut behind them, the elder man reclined in his seat, removed his glasses, and wiped at them with a cloth. "All in all, I felt that went rather well."
Bruce leaned forward, cracking his neck as he regarded the lawyer and asked, "What did they mean about the stuff at the end?"
"Ah," he sighed, perching his spectacles back upon his nose. "Well, they're trying to drag things out, trying to work out a different strategy to use. So, they're stalling for time."
"Well, how long is that going to take?"
"They'll take those full two weeks. Then there's no telling how long they'll take to gather the proper individuals to do a DNA test, plus for however long it takes them to get back to us on that," the man explained as he stood and picked up his briefcase. He nodded to the youth and his caretaker, "Mr. Wayne, Mr. Pennyworth. I wish you both a good day, and I'll be sure to contact you soon."
As he left, Bruce let his head fall back against the seat as he groaned, "Well, that completely ruins the plan."
"Does staying longer than you intended really distress you that much, Master Bruce?" Alfred queried as he stood and looked down to regard his ward before the youth followed suit.
"I guess not," he grumbled as he trudged from the room, tailed closely by the dapper man. Bruce turned to his own musings, internalizing his grumbling as they entered the car and it rode smoothly through the streets of Gotham. The streets were less populated, largely devoid of the roaming droves of gang member and wannabes, but it wasn't as though the sun had suddenly illuminated the darkness that plagued the city. Alleys were clogged with refuse, human and more traditional garbage alike, and threatened to spill out onto the cracked and ever-deteriorating sidewalks. Wooden planks were just as common an occupant of windows as glass, and anything within arm's reach, and much beyond it as well, was covered with graffiti.
There was a gradual change in the environment as they drove. Stately houses replaced cramped apartment buildings and the streets were cleaned, freed from the stench that choked the slums and ghettos of the city. Occasionally, there was some profanity or sign sprayed upon the side of a building, but it was the more often the work of posh youth looking for some sort of thrill than a true gang member proclaiming his or her territory. When more country clubs, high-end hotels, and several mansions started filling his view, instead of thinning, Bruce realized that they weren't headed back to the mansion. His gaze snapped forward and he barked, "Hey! What's going on?"
"I figured, Master Bruce, since it seems as though you'll be sticking around for a while, we might as well get you involved with the world."
"I don't like the sound of that, Alfred."
"I didn't think you would, Master Bruce. Nevertheless, here's your backpack – and here we are," Alfred pulled in front of the tall, brick structure, a sprawling complex on immaculately kept grounds and populated by girls and boys in blue blazers and, respectively, skirts and slacks. A series of arches led to the doors of the building and set overhead of them were the words 'Gotham Academy.' Bruce groaned as Alfred continued, "Now I took the liberty of calling ahead – they were willing to overlook your lack of a uniform for today – and they are most anxious to accept you. You're here in time for lunch, and I have already set you up with an account."
"Alfred, you can't be serious," he growled.
"I'll be here to pick you up at the end of the day though do not be afraid to wander off with any friends you might make," he answered in return, having already exited and moved around to open the door for him. Reluctantly, Bruce emerged from the dark vehicle and glared at the elder man who seemed entirely impervious to the daggers shooting from his eyes. As Alfred unflinchingly weathered the ocular assault, Bruce huffed and turned his glare upon the building. A companionable hand patted his shoulder before Alfred headed around the car, opening the driver door and bidding farewell before he entered.
"Have a good day, Master Bruce. I'll be sure to prepare a feast for tonight."
"Yeah," he grumbled as he hiked the backpack higher onto his shoulder. He trudged towards the complex, mumbling under his breath, "And it had better be a good one after all this."
Yeah, yeah, we're posting another story, over-stretching ourselves, trying to do too much. Well, screw you!
All right, we've got the keyboard back from Ira. So in case it wasn't obvious, this is a story of Bruce Wayne as a teenager, forced to return to Gotham City from his extensive training. That doesn't mean it's going to be about him just going to high school and stuff. Definitely not. We're going to be seeing a lot of familiar faces - and most of them aren't going to be friendly.
So, please review! Encourage us to keep this up.