The smell of dirt wakes him.
He’s face down in a ditch on the side of a road. Weeds tickling his face. He rolls over. It’s night. The moon is full.
His chest aches as though he’s been screaming, but he doesn’t remember screaming.
He doesn’t remember.
He doesn’t remember anything.
His fingers hurt. He holds his hands up; in the moonlight he can see the dirt beneath the nails. There’s blood there too.
He’d gotten out before the last of his strength gave out. The thought comes to him, but he doesn’t know what it refers to. Gotten out of what? He casts his mind back and finds only darkness. Not even a name.
He sits up and every muscle seems to shriek in agony, a wave of pain so intense he doesn’t know what to do with it. That isn’t right, he knows that isn’t right. He’s wearing a black suit, oddly formal, but he can feel dirt under his collar, in his socks. He staggers to his feet, wincing, and tries to brush some of it away. His hands are shaking. The moon slips behind a cloud and he’s left in the dark.
Gotham. He doesn’t know where he is, but. Gotham. That’s an important place. Something important happened there. There’s a reason he should be there. He doesn’t know what it is.
Slowly, painfully, he starts to limp down the road, looking for a street sign. When it becomes clear he’s got a long way to go, he puts up his thumb as trucks go by, their headlights stabbing at him in the dark.
It starts to rain, turning the dirt that covers him to mud.
He doesn’t know how long he’s been walking when someone finally stops and picks him up, asks him where he’s going.
“Gotham,” he says over the sound of the rain on the windshield.
“You’re in luck,” says the driver. “That’s where I’m bound. What’s your name, son?”
It catches him off guard. Nothing comes to him in the dark. And then a name that he grabs like a drowning man suddenly finding a spar: “Bruce,” he says.
It’s not his name. But it’s an important name. He knows this.
“Nice to meet you, Bruce. Looks like you’ve had a rough time of it,” says the driver, sympathetically.
“I guess,” he mutters. He flips down the visor and sees his face for the first time. It’s streaked with mud, and there’s a scar trailing across one cheek. Not an old scar. He touches it wonderingly, tracing the vicious line of it. The trucker, whose name turns out to be Stu, tries to engage him in conversation for a little bit, but when he doesn’t respond, lets a casual silence fall. The rain beats down, veiling the world outside.
He feels himself listing sideways and jerks upright in panic, digging his nails into the palm of his hand. He doesn’t want to sleep, to let the darkness take him again. No.
Eventually, try as he might to fight it, it takes him anyway.
When he wakes up, all he feels is a vast relief, as if he’s escaped something again.
When they get to Gotham, he helps Stu unload the truck in the rain as repayment for the ride and the food he had shared on the way. “You’re a strong fellow,” Stu says appreciatively as he hoists a crate.
He looks down at the crate in his arms. He can lift it, but it’s an effort. “Not really,” he mutters, feeling somehow dissatisfied.
Stu insists he has a cup of coffee in the break room before he goes, and he accepts because he doesn’t know where he’s going. The room is filled with exhausted truckers; a television on the wall rattles off baseball scores. He takes a gulp of coffee and chokes as it burns his mouth.
“Sip! Sip! Geez, kid, don’t you even know how to drink coffee?” Stu says.
He takes a more careful sip. Then he almost chokes again as a face fills the screen: urbane, cosmopolitan. Eyebrows more suited to glaring than smiling, though his face is neutral as he leans close to the microphone. Just enough stubble to be masculine without looking negligent. He’s saying something about rebuilding, but the words are a blur.
A name goes by on the screen: Bruce Wayne.
He stands up. “I have to go,” he says. “I’m sorry. Can you give me directions to the library?”
The rain beats down on him as he makes his way out into the city.
Bruce Wayne knows it’s raining before he opens his eyes from the pain in his knee. It’s an ache that’s been there for years now. He’s gotten used to it.
There are other, more recent aches that he hasn’t.
How do you mourn the loss of a friend you never had? A friendship you certainly didn’t deserve, a friendship you threw away stillborn.
He listens to the rain falling endlessly into the lake for a while, longer than he should. There’s work to do. He’s glad for it.
Rising, he pulls his ridiculous satin dressing gown on--de rigueur for dealing with houseguests who won’t take the hint and leave quickly and quietly the next day. Not that anyone has spent the night with him recently. Not since--
He growls something wordless at himself and stalks out of the bedroom, rubbing his eyes. He looks out at the rain--and stops, his heart hammering against his ribs.
There on his deck is a ghost. A dead man. A vision. Except that ghosts don’t get soaking wet in the rain, their hair plastered to their head. Dead men don’t smile hesitantly, nervously.
And visions don’t have a scar across their cheek that you put there, barely-healed, sharp as an accusation.
Clark Kent--alive, alive!--puts his hand to the glass wall separating them and says, “Mr. Wayne?” He pauses, and that tentative smile flits across his face again. “May I come in?”