She finds him in the graveyard, long after everyone else has left him to his thoughts. The billionaire from Gotham, standing at the grave of a farmboy from Kansas. A sight unseen.
There’s a mother’s kindness still about her, but a weariness all the same.
They had both suffered more than enough as of late.
The freshly turned soil at their feet a testament to this.
She invites him into her home, for a cup of tea, to warm up just a bit, before he head back down the lonely road to Gotham. It’s a long drive, one he has been slowly but surely working to mentally prepare himself for.
“How did you know my Clark,” she asks, soft and so kind. The way a mother should be. As if she doesn’t see it in his face, doesn’t see the obvious guilt that lines him.
When he hesitates, she shakes her head.
“You don’t have to say it.”
“It’s my fault,” he says instead.
Another shake of her head.
“That’s not true.”
He doesn’t contradict her.
Instead he lets her change the topic, grateful for the reprieve.
It is only after his tea has gone cold that she finally asks the question that he had been wondering himself for far too long. “Why?”
He has a practiced reply.
It was a matter of security, national and global security. What if Superman had turned against them, given into dark alien urges and killed them all. Bruce was all too well aware of what normal men could do when tempted by the darkness, but someone with gifts such as Clark’s.
Saying that now though seems weak.
Not when he knew Clark for however brief a moment, and was able to see that his soul was made of lighter stuff. Far better stuff than Bruce’s had been crafted with.
When he speaks, it is not a fully formed thought, certainly never one he’d voiced out loud. “When there’d been that incident last year, my son had been in Metropolis at the Wayne Financial building.” He sees for a moment concern settle onto her face. His building had been one of the many that were not spare. “Or at least - he was supposed to have been - there was a business meeting, he’d bailed on it to get drinks with some girl he’d met at his hotel. I normally would’ve been angry about this, but…”
Bruce trails off.
Remembering how he and Dick had already been on rocky ground, had been since the boy turned eighteen, and while over the past few years they’ve worked to build that bridge back together. Slowly but surely. Those terrifying few hours where he’d thought he’d lost both of his sons were -
“Did he,” Martha’s voice trails off. “I’m sorry, Mr. Wayne.”
“No, Dick is fine. The hotel he was staying at was well out of the way. Scared me for too long because he wouldn’t answer his phone but,” Bruce pauses. Closes his eyes and takes a steadying breath, before he goes back to that moment, standing in the wreckage of Wayne Financial, desperately searching for a sign of his last remaining son. “This wouldn’t have been the first time someone with too much power stole a son from me.”
She reaches across at this taking his hand, and squeezing it lightly.
He wants to remind her that he doesn’t deserve this affection.
Not when the fear of losing one of his own, caused her to lose hers.
But the words die on his throat, in his desperation to feel some sort of motherly comfort. The kind that had been robbed of him when he was just a boy. He cannot help but feel envious of Clark even now.
Even after he’s gone.
In a moment, the time for words passes, as she gets up from the table and moves about the kitchen. “What kind of cookies does your son like?”
Diana is not soft with her care of him.
She’s lost people, she tells him plainly.
Plenty of people.
Too many to keep track of over the years.
She hits him with this both literally and figuratively, somehow able to talk about her losses, while the two of them work out their pent up aggression on the mats in the batcave. She speaks about each of them, sisters-in-arms, a man she’d loved during the war, many she’d killed by her own hand - punctuating each word with a sweep of her arm.
He deserves this.
She shouldn’t be able to defeat him this easily, she tells him as much as she helps pull him off of the ground. Her arm strong on his elbow as she pulls him back up to his full height. It is easy to let Diana move him this way. It is easy to be with her.
Somedays Bruce feels like he should tell her this, he should give into that impulse inside of him and move across the gap that’s always between them. In the end he never does - he will not lose the peace that they have, will not become a man she talks about in a wistful tone a century later.
Instead he says, “I had the idea for a team.”
“What am I not good enough for you?”
“I wasn’t saying that.”
“But you were saying something, yes?”
“Boots off the desk.”
He’s said those words too many times to count.
Enough times that the groan he gets in reply is well worn and familiar. The boots at this on the table move slightly, ankles uncrossing, but not remove themselves from the table.
Bruce is not entirely certain why he even bothered to try.
The night lights of the city stream in through the window. Illuminating the features of the young man sitting at his desk. His dirty combat boots clash with the rest of the look, a fine pressed suit, red tie undone, dark hair gelled down into place. He could have passed for a lower level associate, had Bruce not known better.
It’s late enough a night that nobody else is in the Wayne Enterprise’s offices. His secretary had wished him good night hours before, advising him not to stay too late. Bruce had made some half-hearted promise to finish just this one last email up.
Somehow he’d ended up on the office couch instead. Too worn down to make it home, too stuck in his head to patrol.
Leaving his desk open for unexpected visitors.
“Come on, old man, you know me better than that.”
He doesn’t move from the couch can’t break the illusion.
These have happened before. Dreams, nightmares, the fragile thread of reality twisting ever so slightly. Until Bruce can’t remember what is and what isn’t.
The last one was so vivid, an angry voice, a torn cape, a boy bleeding out on the ground: You killed Superman, but you couldn’t kill the Joker .
He won’t risk it happening again.
Won’t risk saying his name, and shattering the brief moment of peace they have in the stillness of the night. Instead Bruce waits, until the silence becomes too much, and his companion speaks, with an irritated but curious tone.
“I heard you were looking for people.”
A casual shrug.
“I do have friends in Gotham.”
Bruce doesn’t even what to begin to imagine what sort of company he keeps.
“Promise me you’ll stay out of trouble while I’m away.”
There’s a harsh bitter sort of laugh in reply, cut off second later, too suddenly to have ever been real Finally the boots leave his desk. This no longer feels like a victor. The young man rising up to his full height - and god, he’s gotten tall hasn’t he. How long had it been since-
“You know I can’t make that promise.”
He moves too suddenly, blinks his eyes, and the image disappears.
All that’s left is the ringing sound of stale canned laughter in his ears, and the stillness of an empty office.
There’s a cup of tea in the cave without fail every time he returns home from a night patrolling. Warmed just the way he’s liked it since he was a boy, with just a hint of milk.
“You’re too good for me, Alfred.”
“Believe me, sir, I am well aware of that.”
It’s night’s like these where he needs the dry wit to snap him back into place.
To remind him that he’s still human underneath it all.
“Batman needs a Robin.”
Four words is all it takes to freeze him in his place.
The stillness of the night, of the alleyway is suddenly too much. Suffocating. Trapped in a space that he can easily escape from.
“Batman needs a Robin,” the kid insists again, because that’s what he is, a kid , no more than fifteen. No more than Jason was when -
This doesn’t deter him. It never does.
He meets the boy’s eyes. “What’s your name?”
“Tim. Tim Drake.”
He had thought that the boy looked familiar. There was something about his features, about the camera that he he clutched as it hung around his neck, that was just too much all at once.
“How old are you, Tim?”
Fourteen. Too young to be out here alone at night.
“A kid like you shouldn’t be out here on the streets.”
He lets out a dismissive snort, “All of Gotham’s dangerous, sir.”
“So it’s sir now?”
Tim looks down at his shoes at that, refusing to answer the question for a long moment.
He takes his opportunity to stress once more, “Go home.”
“I know you’re Bruce Wayne.”
It was a last ditch attempt. Something that was clearly being saved for a last ditch attempt. And what a play it was.
It all comes out quickly after that, a rush, syllables crashing together as the kid tries and fails to keep his cool. “I know you’re Bruce Wayne, I know that your son, Dick, is Nightwing - I’ve talked to him before, technically he told me not to do this but...” The kid trails off looking away. Apparently he was going to need to have a conversation with Dick about warning people when they’re secret identities had been leaked , but there would be time for that later. For now, he focuses back on the kid, who is talking once more. “I know you’re recruiting a team of superheroes, I’m not sure for what purpose yet, But I’m working on that, I think it has something to do with why Superman faked his death. I mean, I know Superman’s not dead, so…”
Somehow he had thought I know you’re Bruce Wayne was going to be the biggest bombshell of the evening.
“Say that again.”
The kid sucks in a big breath, before speaking in the same rushed tone, “I know you’re Bruce-”
“No,” too harsh. “Not that. The last bit.”
The kid - Tim, his name is Tim - blinks twice, before slowly replying, in a hesitant voice, “Superman’s not dead.”
It takes months of searching.
Of putting the clues together, building a map out of nothingness.
Empty leads, that bring him to cities across the world. There’s not a place on this planet where someone has not heard of Superman, but he’s become more of a myth than a man.
All too often Bruce feels as though he’s chasing a ghost.
One of them many.
Some days he’ll see it one the edge of his vision, a flick of someone that looks too familiar. Dark hair, bright eyes, a voice that carries on the wind with just the hint of a southern twang.
“I thought I might have been losing my mind.”
The features in front of him soften for a moment, ever so slightly.
So different from how he had looked in the heat of the battle.
Or how he had looked at Luthor’s party.
Like a new man, reborn.
“Did you ever consider I didn’t want to be found?”
Bruce ignores the subtle jab.
He’d been that way too, for too long to even keep proper record of.
“I’m forming a team. A team I’d like you to be part of.”