As long as I'd known him, Bruce has had this ring on his finger.
It wasn't flashy. It wasn't...gaudy. It was, in fact, just about the most tasteful thing there was to the whole Playboy persona. It just...was. Because I'd never seen him without it.
But I was getting to that. I shouldn't get ahead of myself.
It was one of the first things that caught my eye, when I'd first met Bruce. I'd come to him fresh out of Juvie, fresh off the streets of Gotham. I was a street-wise, worldly-wise brat for all the wrong reasons, in all the wrong ways. I'd just lost my parents, he was trying to form a 'bond', and all I could think about was what I had to do to survive to the next day,
That's why I saw only the dollar signs at first. For all of the ring's tastefulness, I knew immediately what a valuable thing was when I saw it. It was only later, as I grew to know Bruce, that I realized the truth. That sometimes, value has little to do with money, but with sentiment. The ring was treasured not for its worth, but for whose it was.
It was his father's, and his grandfather's before that.
Still, Bruce never told me the full story of how he acquired the ring. He never had to. It was enough for me to hear the quiet awe in his voice as he spoke of the heirloom's place in his family. It was enough.
More than enough.
I also saw how Bruce treated the ring. The way it always shined in the light, the way it was always so carefully polished. He had always taken such good care of it. When the rest of the world was falling apart, that ring remained in good hands...on good hands. Hands that had shaped and molded me, made me what I was, made me all the better for it. For knowing him.
Much as I'd hated to admit it, most of the time.
But the ring...was always a part of Bruce. Never the Bat. Too much of an identifying feature, I supposed. But it was always the first thing that went back on, after the cowl was down and the night was over. Always. I'd watched him often enough to know.
Alfred had come to see me. I still wasn't sure how he even found me. Not even the Oracle had been able to do it. I'd been careful to make sure of that when I first came here. But now here he was regardless. Here, in front of me, staring at me with something in his eyes I dared not define.
That's probably why it was he who reached out first. Literally. He took my hands, placed the ring in them, curled my numb fingers over it, and uttered the words that shattered my world:
"I— There's been an accident. Master Bruce— He— He wanted you to have this."
It was the first time in my life that I'd ever heard Alfred stumble over his words. And I didn't ever want to hear it again.