“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.” Frederick Douglass
A shadow descended upon Gotham, a lone figure against the villains of the night. Looming, distorted, it danced off walls and people shook in their boots. Even after all these years, it was still unclear whether the figure lurking beyond the darkness was real or not. Even with the rumors of him being in the Justice League, even after Joker and Two-face and all those who supposedly face down against him, there was never any solid evidence of his existence, beyond the light in the sky at the darkest of hours. Eddie from the corner store down on the edge of Crime Alley says he saw him once. Bernie from the bank (robber anonymous) says he is merely a myth the police made up in order for criminals to truly be afraid.
Lately the myth has come out with a vengeance. Lately there’s been more proof, lately there have been marks to show the truth. Lately there is brutality in every transaction. A lone figure stands by his light of hope, waiting for nothing.
A cold chill has fallen over Gotham. It eats away at the very core of the place lost souls call home and bleeds out into the night. Hope does not shine here, not since the death of their white knight’s son. A child lost to a war that was not his own. Bruce Wayne, locked away in the hollow halls of an empty museum of fading ruins for months upon months.
The Dark Knight lashes out.
The scene falls.
The gravel is silent as he walks over it, years and years of training has made every move of his body, every thought flickering through his mind fall silent of its surroundings. He is nothing, but a shadow drifting in and out of the realm of the living. He was made to suffer, to die. He just forgot that for a while. Eyes are moving taking in the world around him as quickly as they could, greedily making the world into a series of escape routes, ideas, thoughts, patterns, evidence. His mind spells out a story here. There was a crime here, and it is all too easy to read.
It is a familiar scene.
It is nothing he has not seen yet.
There is blood scraping across the floor.
There are scissors red dancing at their tips, as they lie under the sofa, the tips flickering silver in the pale moonlight.
At night, the monsters come to play.
But he knows monsters.
Feet move, but no sound resonates.
About to be seven.
The police will be here in 15 minutes and 14 seconds.
Ambulance 2 minutes longer. Such is Gotham.
There is a door before him and where most would hesitate, he moves, creeping past it, hinges suddenly as silent as him. There are heads of hair dresser dolls, deformed hanging off the valves of the ceiling and along shelves. They laugh at him as he moves, mock him as he shifts in the shadows, their blanket comforting his swift movements, spurring him on.
The music meets his hears. It is loud and brash and emotional. It is everything his mothe-
He is nameless figure of the night and the sound pierces its air. It shatters the balance of silence and stutters into frame. The scissors in the man’s hand glint in the light, there is blood dripping off the surgery table. It makes sloppy noises as it hits the floor, the long-winded notes singing a tale loss, of love.
Like all things in Gotham there is insanity, there is loss. His fists crunch against a lifeless doll, against someone that will never recover from this night, the weeks they spent in this hellhole.
He is a monster.
There is silence.
Familiar lights flicker through the door he left open- sloppy.
He works to put pressure on the wounds of the poor kid before him. The blood does not stop, and it will keep flowing onto the table if he does nothing. Alcohol drenches his bare palms, gloves on the floor, latex ones replacing them quickly, as he goes work.
He looks at the monster’s tools as he pulls out his own, a frown sketching deeper lines into his already sorrow sunken lines.
The man is whimpering, his voice long lost, from hours of screaming, but this is familiar to Batman. He steps into the shoes of his father, into the shoes of a boy lost in the bowls of Africa, where medicine is few and far away. The screams do not bother him anymore. He makes the broken whole again, but he cannot undo the damage. There are scars that will last forever.
“Freeze,” a voice echoes behind him, but it means nothing. From his voice and shadow looming on the floor, he is a small one, young, too young for Gotham. “I-I said freeze.”
His voice is a tentative heartbeat out of rhythm, but Batman does not stop for those quivering in fear. He only has a few stitches left, before the ambulance can handle him properly. A shot rings out through the night.
He glares over his shoulder and the boy trips in his steps backwards. He readjusts his stance to account for his bleeding left shoulder, finds it limits his movements more than he would like. There are more footsteps.
The ambulance will be here in 1 minute and 43 seconds.
“What the hell is going on here,” Gordon, great.
He closes the last stitch, wiping his tools down and putting them back into his belt, gloves dropping to the floor, as he replaces them with his own. His eyes catch, locked onto the man by his feet, pink mask broken around the edges, dull blue eyes beginning to peak open again. Black hair sticking up at strange angles.
A twisted version of himself looks up at him with awe and wonder.
Lazlo Valentin smiles.
Bruce Wayne crumbles.
“Batman,” cold eyes flicker up to meet soft brown ones. They bare his soul open, but he does not back down.
“Commissioner,” he grounds out, going to move past him.
“You saved his life,” those eyes are on the kid laying broken on the table behind him. The line is loaded and they both know it. The man is trying to remind him of all the people he has saved, overlooking the ones he failed, the ones he continues to fail.
Moving forward, eyes ahead, face never changing, Batman sweeps out of the place. There one second and gone the next. The officers making strange noises, the commissioner himself sighing softly as the moonlight drifts closer out of sight.
“In other news Lex Luther is on the loose once more, following his recent breakout alongside the Ultrahumanite. Mr.Turpin, who has he aligned himself with this time?”
It was all static.
His brain just does not know when to quit. Once a story catches his eye, a puzzle left unsolved was a beacon to him. And yes, maybe he does not know when to quit. Yes, maybe, this had something to do with Jason’s death. Yes, maybe he was fueling some unnameable emotion into this. But at the end of this particular Gotham tale there will be no happy ending. At the end of all Gotham tales there will be loose strings. At the end of everything all roads lead to nothing, but the fact that nothing in Gotham will ever go down smoothly. There are lies, and murder and Gotham never sleeps. Professor Pyg was just one, in a multitude of cases, but one is closed and more still lies in wait to be solved.
His work is not done.
The mask falls, blue eyes flickering open, then closed.
He has work to do.
Batman does not sleep. Bruce Wayne is a lie.
“Bruce,” his mother ushers him forward, “this is Alexander, Alexander, this is our son Bruce.”
She’s hovering and she knows it, but at least she’s being better about it than Thomas, who looks like he might just scope their son up and hide him away in the panic room she knows he built a few months ago when they discussed introducing Bruce to someone. It hurts, but she knows they can’t be selfish anymore. It sucks, because she knows the danger now, has seen what it can do to their family. She won’t let it happen again, but it’s worrying and it makes it difficult to allow Bruce out of their sight, much less around other people associated with dangerous people. He’s their son.
Taking a deep breath, she nudges him forward, watches as he takes in the taller boy in front of him with a sharp calculated gaze, blue eyes taking in every, last detail.
He’s something else. She knows, just as Thomas does. Their boy is brilliant, will be more than brilliant before he hits puberty, but all they can do is support him and protect him. To do that they must clean up their city. Yes, it will mean long nights away from him, and a distance that will have to be made up with time and patience, but she’d rather him safe and distant, then close and dead.
Combing her fingers through his hair, gently, she watches as Alex puts his hand out to shake, and Bruce just stares at it like it’s a foreign object. She knows this is her fault too, but once more she’d rather him struggle with social niceties and common language than dead.
It’s the price she’s willing to pay.
Thomas chuckles softly, “come on champ you know this,” he ruffles their son’s hair, a soft smile playing as he takes a small hand into his own and helps him shake hands with a Luthor.
And she hates to think it, but hopefully this Luthor’s hand is one worth shaking. His father’s hand was too covered in filth, but she has hope for Alex, for what his mother had hoped for him. Taking a deep breath, as Bruce lets a small smile play on his lips, showing his cards.
As usual the boy was playing with them, and she must stifle a laugh as he rolls his eyes. He’s far too small for such a thing, but somehow, he pulls it off perfectly. He’s three and he’s a million times smarter than they anticipated he would be. He’s three and he hasn’t spoken a single word to either her husband or herself, but his intelligence is not hidden. Hell, for bed time stories he makes Thomas read Dante’s Inferno. Which in all honesty she’d been against, but at least the burning layers of hell were chopped up between his eternal love for superheroes and comic books. Alex for all he’s worth just kind of shifts, quirking an eye as if to dissect their small family, but he’s sweet, a little rough around the edges, but with Lilian disappearing to do god knows what and only Lionel left, well, really this is better than she expected.
“Master Bruce,” there is a soft hand on his shoulder, calm voice in his ear, “you may be the night, but even the night has to sleep dear boy.”
“Ngh,” he felt hands go around his shoulder, “I am fine.”
“Oh of course sir, the great Batman could never be anything less than fine, whatever was I thinking,” his voice was the same as it always was, loud and sure, but calm and focused.
The DNA report he’d been working on was done and on the screen before him was the image of a man in his early 40’s. He was recently unemployed, no history of abuse in his family, just a man with a good background, who was currently down in his luck. A man who killed his family last night.
The DNA confirms it.
Sometimes he forgets that monsters put on faces of people we may know and people we may think we know and people we don’t want to know and people we’ve never even met. Sometimes monsters have human lives. They have names and wives, husbands and kids. They live in corner houses with white picket fences, plain houses, new houses, old houses, apartments, and in big cities, small cities, forgotten places, dancing in the light to scare people away from the dark. Monsters have favorite songs. They dance with friends and laugh the loudest. They get lost in politics and art. And people forget that monsters walk among them.
It’s August and Hal is not here to call him an oppressive, obsessed jackass. Hal is not here to tell him to quit being an idiot and just get over it, to do something more than just hide the pain, to use the training Cassandra taught him and hide all the hurt behind a solid strong build. He buries the pain, turns pain into obsession, focuses on catching the Mad Hatter, and focuses on the case, on the mission, back to the basics. He needs to save his city, needs to focus on the mission. Letting people in was selfish, ignorant.
This mission is his and his alone; no one else should suffer for his failures. No one should be burdened with this life, because he is too weak to face it alone.
He’s glad Hal is gone, glad he has opted out of seeing the disappointment in the man’s eyes, the anger, and the grief clouding out warm hazel eyes. He is glad he does not have to see whatever it was they once had turned to hate, turned to something besides adoration. He does not think he could live with that. He does not think he could live with failure glaring out from Hal’s face.
He’s weak and he knows it.
He does not talk to the league, not anymore. He does not go out as Bruce Wayne.
He does not talk to anyone.
He does his work from home.
He dances around Alfred.
He does not need to talk anymore.
He does not need to think about anything but the mission, what he should have done from the beginning. Earthly ties are a distraction, like Ra’s once said. He’s been weak and he knows it, let things fall from his grasps and these were the consequences. The buzzing won’t go away. He does not know what to do about it.
It’s August and Jason would be 16 today. He doesn’t know what to do.
It’s August, but his mind is stuck back in April.
It’s August and he shouldn’t feel as alone as he does. “Master Bruce,” Alfred whispers softly, hand tightening on his shoulder. He uses that voice this time, the one that Bruce does not want to hear right now. That one he used all those years ago. And he plays that card, because of course he does. He always does. The chair swings around and Alfred lowers himself, arms wrapping around his shoulders, “I am so glad you are still alive.”
And just like all those years ago he does not say what he wants to. “I have work to do.”
“I have a job to do as well.”
“Alfred let me work.”
“Come to bed sir.”
“I am fine.”
The words fall on wisely deaf ears.
So of course, the big guns come out. J’onn is here again, because of course Alfred called him of all people.. J'onn is there and they are quiet, so quiet Bruce is almost afraid of what it means, but he does not ponder on it, merely allows it to settle between them comfortably. J’onn however is not afraid of silence, he is almost too accepting of it, of everything. While Bruce himself lives in darkness and with darkness comes silence.
They are comfortable with one another now.
The Martian leads him on, up the stairs, and through empty hallways, out into the real world, and he knows where they are going.
He does not want to follow anymore. J'onn puts a hand on his shoulder and Bruce fights to knock him off. J’onn never stops coming, even when Bruce says nothing, or yells, or pushes, J’onn is almost ever present, whether in mind or reality, J’onn will always be here. It is strange, but reassuring even after all the damage he’s done.
“It was not your fault my friend,” he says today, when Jason is long gone, and Bruce has had long enough to ruminate on the subject.
It is Jason’s birthday and the world is dull, so unlike the child himself.
He looks at the grave before him, feels his hands tighten into balls and his eyes glare angrily in front of him, “yes, it was,” his voice is still hoarse, because even after all this time he is refusing to talk much. Their voices feel too loud, his mouth feels too dry.
“Then in that sense my family’s death was my fault,” J’onn looks up now, eyes seeking for a home long gone now.
“Maybe it was,” Bruce snaps feels his chest hollowing again, eyes falling shut.
“Or maybe we merely allow ourselves to be blinded by our own grief,” the Martian is remorseful, the melancholic tone in his voice humming through the sweltering air. They sit quietly, watching the summer blossoms were in bloom, the sun rising in the distance, flecks of its light shining down through the dark clouds of Gotham.
“And that my friend is a lonely path,” he looks back down towards Jason and his mother and father, looks down and finds himself lost back in memories Bruce can only imagine. “It’s better to be alone,” he states with as much conviction as he can muster.
“Then you would not have joined the team.”
“I am only a part time member.”
“Nor would I be here.”
“My son is dead because I could not protect him.” Bruce frowns at the sky, finds himself staring at how small he is in a reflection of the universe.
“Your son is dead, because of a madman and a bomb,” J’onn stated, “like mine was decimated by radical individuals who felt entitled to something they did not own.”
Bruce silenced himself, feeling almost childish in how he let his emotions get the better of him. He does not apologies nor does J’onn, but they are comforted by the silence and the wisdom that speaks from within it. Taking a deep breath, he centers himself, finds himself in a midst of fear and anger and grief. “I do not believe I was ready to come back.”
“From your training?” J’onn sighs, “no one ever really is ready to come back to reality, to enter war.” J’onn looked down,
“You were young when you arrived back in Gotham, despite your maturity, you were still a child. You, me, Hawkgirl- We are children of war. We were raised on battlegrounds and faced the worst life had to offer before our time.”
“She is still a spy,” Bruce stated firmly.
"I was one once, with the DEA,” Jo’nn responded with a withering smile.
Bruce shrugged, grunting as he went. “My parents are dead. My son is dead. I have seen so many die and for what, to throw another villain in jail only for them to break out.”
“Yes.” J’onn walked away, trusting Bruce to follow. Bruce watched him go, eyes soft, an eyebrow raised, frame troubled. He watched before following silently on sturdy feet.
They walked down into his mother’s garden. “We have to be better.”
“I agree, yet it is still troubling to ponder.”
“My entire race was wiped away in a gruesome genocide,” J’onn stated, “and I still find it troubling.” He sat amongst the flowers, motioned for Bruce to follow lead.
“When your parents died, you sought to be stronger.”
“I wish to be wiser,” Bruce frowned at the rose handed to him, eyes finding all its beauty, fingers itching to draw it despite putting down the pencil for good.
“We have both grown. You have learned that it is one thing to be stronger, but without the wisdom to use the strength you seek or hold, then the strength is useless. I fear for the future, like you my friend,” J’onn spoke softly, “however we cannot allow our doubts to over shadow what we know.”
“I’m assuming you do not speak of Hawkgirl,” Bruce twirled the plant softly in his fingers remembering the first time he ever met Poison Ivy. “
No,” J’onn spoke softly, “something worse.”
“Whatever it is, we need to be prepared,” Batman was speaking now, straight faced and sure, tough and intimidating.
It’s August and as he watches the Martian fly away he knows he really is alone, but he played his part well, and J’onn thinks he is healing, but he knows the truth.
He goes to bed, the sun hidden behind curtains. He goes to bed until Alfred stutters out of view and pulls out a tablet.
He pulls out his tablet and watches the news. Vikki is as succinct as always. She speaks and Batman churns in his stomach. Three kids found mutilated, the police are not talking, but they will for Batman. They always talk for him. And he knows they will call him tonight, and tonight he will answer.
And when he does, he can feel nameless eyes tracking a shadow across the landscape of a broken city.