house of cards
The first one to go is the Joker. Maybe Batman was just a little too slow or the Clown Prince of Crime miscalculated, or the officer that fired was new to the force, but Bruce is sure that he’ll never be able to forget the look of absolute shock and surprise on the Joker’s face as he tumbled from the edge of the building, clutching at the dark stain that was spreading across his purple waistcoat.
Batman launches himself off the building, catches the Joker in mid-fall, twisting and turning down to the traffic of the dark streets below.
His cape flares out behind him like a pair of great wings, and even as the Joker says “oh, Batsy,” Bruce knows he is dead.
He can’t describe the magnitude of things he feels at that moment, but supposes most of it is mourning.
The other man doesn’t even have the audacity to laugh.
Bruce makes sure the Joker gets a full funeral, and Batman attends in his sleekest black suit, which probably counts as mourning attire, even though he already stands out amongst the crowds of his nemeses.
He can barely place names to faces anymore without the costumes—it must be Poison Ivy in the dress of black lilies, Dent’s suit is bisected with two minutely different shades of grey, the Scarecrow’s tie is a noose, and the Riddler is wearing tiny question mark cufflinks. Little details.
He’s getting too old for this.
Dr. Quinzel is conveniently absent from the funeral, and they find her body the next afternoon. Bruce doesn’t remember if she hung herself, or it was something else entirely. Maybe a bullet to the heart, like Mr. J. Definitely suicide, he thinks.
The last he hears, there’s a betting pool in Arkham on how long it’ll take Poison Ivy to follow her.
The day after Gotham legalizes gay marriage, Alfred brings in a wedding invitation with the mail. It isn’t the first he received, nor will it be the last, but as he turns the card over, he realises it’s the only one that counts.
You are cordially invited to celebrate the joining of Edward E. Nygma and Harvey Dent—
On the back, in emerald green fountain pen: Bruce; we need a witness, and you were one of Harvey’s best friends. Please don’t wear the bat suit. –Eddie
They wear white lilies at their lapels, and the Riddler clutches a bouquet of green carnations to his chest. When they say their vows, Dent moves to flip the coin impulsively, but Edward just grabs his wrist and kisses him.
Bruce supposes that works as well, and that night drinks himself into a stupor.
Rumour is, an up-and-coming company (Nygmatech) is going to de-throne Wayne Enterprises in a couple years.
He pours himself another drink.
For the first time in months, the batsignal shines out of Bruce’s window.
He frowns and closes the curtains.
He’s alerted to another presence on the rooftop by a muffled cough and a sharp intake of breath.
He turns to the lit batsignal, but all he finds is Jonathan Crane perched on the edge of the building like an overgrown crow, taking a long drag of a cigarette and blowing the smoke lucidly in Batman’s direction. He is untouched by age, porcelain skin stretched taught over high cheekbones, translucent silver-blue eyes looking right through him.
But when he really looks, even Crane has withered with age—his eyes are a little more sunken in, cheeks a little more hollow, the lenses on his glasses a little thicker.
But all he says is “the batsignal is not a beeper, Dr. Crane,” and the Scarecrow chokes out a little laugh followed by another coughing fit, and lights another cigarette.
“Want one?” he asks, holding the carton out to Batman like it’s the most natural thing in the world. “They weren’t cheap.”
And when there is no response, Crane just shrugs and a little cruel smile flits across his lips:
“Old men are allowed to have their vices, Bruce.”
“I’ve been thinking,” Crane says, grinding the butt of a cigarette into the rooftop with the heel of his expensive dress shoes, and Bruce marvels at the man’s nicotine tolerance, “about retiring. I’ve been offered a job. In Maine.”
And Bruce mentally calculates how far away he will be, but stops himself midway, because it’s not like he should care anyways.
They play therapist to the early hours of the morning, and when the Scarecrow stands up and stretches like a cat, Bruce looks away.
Crane takes Batman’s face in his hands, pulls back the cowl, plants a kiss to Bruce’s forehead like one might do to a young child.
“There are other villains in Gotham now. The people don’t need me to teach them fear anymore. Goodbye, Bruce.”
The name Scarecrow drifts into the recesses of Gotham’s memory, and the last Bruce hears, Brookhaven Mental Hospital is thriving under Dr. Crane’s administration.
And one by one, they all leave. Harvey and Edward Nygma-Dent move somewhere warm and tropical to retire, the Iceberg Lounge closes down, and Bruce gets the occasional postcard from Catwoman—she’s traveling all over the world now, simply left him behind. His hair is starting to grey, when he looks in the mirror, and even Alfred gives off an air of tiredness, a slightly less alert and attentive man than Bruce remembers.
Barbara marries as well, adopts kids, however hesitant Bruce was at welcoming Noah Kuttler into the family as a son-in-law. Turns out some obsessions are rooted deeper than just hero-villain rivalry.
Gordon retires, passes away in his sleep the next winter—he’s been sick for a long time.
Well. He doesn’t want to talk about Jason anymore, or Dick, but at least they went out in a blaze of glory, together and before everything went to hell. Bruce doesn’t think he’ll ever be lucky enough to die with someone he loves, though that could mostly be because they’re all dead or… gone.
He thinks he knows now, how Superman felt cradling Conner’s Kryptonite-ridden body—he remembers the scene now, and realises that even that couldn’t have been close, because Bruce remembers he and the rest of the Justice League turning away without a word as Lex Luthor crossed the battle lines, took Superman’s face in his hands and kissed him. Bruce supposes it was all he could do to keep from falling down and falling apart beside his son’s body as well.
Bruce hopes they’re happy somewhere, now, though knows the pain of losing a son is something you never quite get over. He knows. He’s lost two of his own.
He thinks of Jason Todd and Dick Grayson, the Last Flying Grayson and the red-breasted robin with clipped wings—and he takes the suits down from where they’ve been tucked neatly in the top of his closet, because displaying them in the Batcave just feels wrong somehow. Buries his face in the fabric and Kevlar and tries to remember.
He’s losing the little details now, though, and were Jason’s eyes green or blue? Was Dick’s birthday the fifth or the sixth?
It hits him harder than he’d like to admit.
When Alfred dies, Bruce almost uses the Lazarus pits himself, but when he closes his eyes, he can hear their voices—
“It’s not your fault, Bruce. You have to let go.”
“You can’t just fucking bring back the dead, Bruce, look what happened last time.”
“It’s your choice, Master Bruce. But beware that the consequences are often much worse than your actions.”
He just wants his family back.
All he has left is to tie up loose ends. He writes thirty-four drafts of a will before he decides the simplest decision is to leave everything to Tim. Damian will understand, when he is older perhaps. When the shadow of the Bat is no more than an urban legend, and unrecorded history blanketing the city—but every history has its black marks. Bruce just happened to be Gotham’s.
And the city thrives on.