By all accounts and the most elementary of logics, this is, on a good scenario, a bad idea. A horrible idea on the best of days, with the potential to turn into the worst breach of security and the end of everything.
(Not the literal everything. Just the only everything that’s keeping him going.)
(Not sane. Just going.)
But he can’t stop himself and Alfred won’t do it and Diana is roughly 30% of the reason as to why he’s knocking, terribly hesitant, on an old door of more peeling white paint than actual wood.
Martha Kent looks a good thirty years older than she did last time he saw her; and doesn’t it mean something, when such occasion involved a bunch of terrorists armed with flamethrowers? It looks like two weeks painted her blond hair much gray, like the skin on her cheeks fell with her smile. Now that she’s not holding herself on the satisfaction of an accomplished simple life, now that there’s no motherly pride to keep her spine straight and her head high, she’s a tiny woman with tired eyes.
Ridiculously, he notices that she hunches, and suddenly she looks much more like Clark Kent’s mother. Before, he could have told from whom Superman took his regal firmness.
“Mrs Kent, I am-“ Your son’s almost-killer turned ally turned grieving mess of a human being.
“I know who you are,“ she stops him. Her hands find her apron to clean on, but she doesn’t look like she wants to shake his. She looks like she has to keep going, doing something, anything , because if she stops now-
( Sir, you’ve been sitting here for three days now.
Leave me alone, Alfred.
I do not believe you to be alone, Sir. I believe you to be in the awful company of your mind, right now, and I think you should get up and take a shower instead. )
“You paid for the funeral.” Mrs Kent tilts her head to the side, evaluating. “Thank you.“
Brucie Wayne would say something insensitive - not as lavish as the other one, I’ll admit, but not even I can keep up with the expenses for Superman’s burial - enough to build her rage too high for her to see him for real, to find the cracks in the mask that she alone got a close up to. Batman would grunt and disappear in the night.
Bruce cannot do either, because Bruce’s hand is hitching for a glass of whiskey and something to torch his hand on. To do something, anything. Because if he stops now-
“Come in,“ she says, like it’s the most normal thing, like he’s a friend come to offer his condolences, with no apologies to clear out with the dead and the fallen.
He does it.
He slips into a mask soon after. It’s a mistake, truly. He came here to be honest, to make amend, but it fails under the pressure of a dying self-preservation instinct, kicking and screeching in his head.
He’s dealt with the families of the employees who died during Black Zero; that’s the mask that comes up while talking with her.
He says, “I’ll do everything in my power to help you.”
He thinks, I can’t help you, I can’t, look at me, I’m barely hanging on myself.
Alfred has hidden all the bottles in his study and his bedroom and in a five bedrooms radius from there. Bruce attempts the kitchen and finds him there, of course.
“Fox hunting?“ he says, because he feels rather smoked out of his den.
The man pushes a mug in this direction. It’s full of cheap-brand hot chocolate and marshmallows of what’s probably glorified edible plastic in light fake pink and white stripes.
Bruce falls on the chair, rather than sit. His hands curl around the drink and tingle with the heat of the ceramic, but he’d rather burn his skin off them than see them tremble.
Silent, Alfred sits in front of him. He has a mug of his own full of the same concoction and Bruce knows they both hate the taste and the texture and what it most definitely does to their inner organs, but the smell-
It’s a smell that says, I got an A+, Bruce!, and, You can’t bench me, Boss!, and, It’s a Late Patrol Night, Bruce, Alfie said so.
Bruce doesn’t even bring it to his lips. He just curls over it, elbows on the table, and holds his head in his hands.
Arthur is a huge miss. He won’t join them, Bruce is sure, so they’ll have to do without him.
Mrs Kent doesn’t warrant a second visit, so why he knocks at her door again, he doesn’t know.
He knocks thrice before he hears a loud clang from the barn and his heart leaps in his throat. He runs in, terrified, just to find her hit at the side of a tractor with a wrench. “Stupid old thing,” she huffs. “Always refuses to get started, after the winter.”
It’s absurd, the relief he feels. “I could take a look, if you’d like.“
“Does your butler take care of dry-cleaning your suits, Bruce?“
She calls him by his name. He wants to say he hates it. “I am- unsure.”
“Well, I don’t want to saddle poor Alfred with the task of getting grease out of a thousand dollars suit,“ she shakes her head, slightly reproachful.
Probably best this way. Bruce has annoyed too many people lately to get in a fight with Alfred too.
She leads him to the kitchen pausing only to take her boots off at the door. She slips on a pair of old battered blue slippers and paddles through a maze of cardboard boxes. The sound echoes against the walls. “Coffee or tea?”
“Coffee, thank you,” he says, and then, detective instinct taking over, he peers into an open box.
There’s an oval ball there, on top of an year book from Smallville High in bright red. A few shirts in plaid, sturdy discolored jeans, a pair of battered sneakers. A pile of pictures tied with an elastic band, laid on top of the rest and carefully face down. Not like Bruce needs much to know who figures in those.
“Figured it was time to,“ comes a voice from behind him, but he doesn’t turn.
He fights in his brain with the picture of another room, a stockpile of old yet religiously well kept books, dark green sheets, a cluttered desk with a not submitted essay on the influence of the three witches’ prophecy on Macbeth’s behavior and the inescapable nature of fate. No pictures, but a framed newspaper article about Batman being the result of an hallucination in the collective unconscious of Gotham’s mentally exhausted population.
(The suit. Oh, God, the suit. )
It was never time to. It will never be time to.
It’s not like he needs the extra room, after all.
She’s staring, he can feel it on his skin, sticking like dust and debris and smoke and blood, please, so much blood, it can’t be his, he’s not big enough to hold all this blood, he’s just-
“He’ll always be my kid-,“ Martha is saying, “-but because I am his mother and I knew him better than he knew himself sometimes, I know he wouldn’t want me to keep his stuff around if it’s only going to make me cry.“ Her voice is wet. “ I don’t want to cry every time I think of him. We both deserve better.“
“I have to go.“
He doesn’t stop to take his coffee, to listen to her voice, to count how many boxes it takes to file away a son’s life.
(Fourteen. Fourteen, fourteen, fourteen, fucking fourteen. )
Barry is a child. A very fast child but a child. Bruce has the routine ready in his brain: offer, be declined, go home to say I tried.
Barry was not supposed to say yes. Why, for the love of fuck, does he say yes?
“I need friends.“
Bruce buys him a pizza and thinks of an iron and three tires and a cheeseburger without onion and an extra-large portion of fries. Who the fuck eats a burger with a fork, you weirdo?!
Berry chews and asks, “What’s your superpower?”
“I’m rich.“ None, none, none, just getting sons killed.
He hangs up on, in this order: three members of the press of some kind or some city, Lucius Fox, three investors, Lucius Fox, a model, Lucius Fox, Selina, three more times Lucius Fox.
Then it comes, “ Bruce, please, “ and he can’t bring himself to hang up.
He doesn’t even feel compelled to. Dick just stays, silent, on the line for twenty minutes, then hangs up himself.
Bruce almost laughs at the absurdity of a quiet Richard Greyson . Though, really, he doesn’t feel much like laughing.
(He won’t. Stop. Laughing.)
Alfred poisons his dinner one night. Bruce eats three whole bites before the butler puts the antidote on the table in front of him and he finally notices the off-taste of his food.
“Oh,” he says. He almost doesn’t want to take it.
“Mrs Kent called, Sir,“ Alfred says, which is all it takes to make Bruce swallow the clear liquid. “She wanted to inform you she will be visiting Mr Kent’s grave on Friday. She would be pleased to have you accompany her.“
Bruce says nothing.
In his room, Bruce throws up.
Diana says Cyborg is a maybe.
She says Cyborg is the age of a college kid and Bruce destroys three prototypes in the cave.
On Friday, he joins Martha Kent at the Smallville cemetery.
She’s dressed in sober black, her clothes thick to counter the coldness, whether from the wind or inside. It’s the closest to still he’s seen her since the funeral, and she’s still torching her fingers on the fabric of her scarf.
“I checked you on the internet,” she says, out of the blue, as they are walking. As he’s weak, again, under the guilt and the loss. “I might not be as good at investigating as Clark was, but it wasn’t too hard to.” She slips her arm around his, holding herself up as her voice cracks just a bit. “I’m sorry they didn’t let you grieve in peace.”
She doesn’t say she’s sorry he lost him. Which is better, because he’s not sure he would take it well.
Martha never knew Jason. Not a single vulture who wrote about him knew anything. They threw words like tragic and child and loss like they had the slightest idea of how truly big of a tragedy it was, how it happened, how long it fucking took; how small and fragile he was under the walls of tough attitude and rage and mistrust he’d been forced to build so young; how devastating it had been to look for a pulse and never find it, to lull his dead body against his chest and letting himself be blinded by the tears and the horrific yellow of the spray-painted words.
(The worst thing is, Superman stopped him . He had wanted to kill Joker, he had needed to. But Superman, with his stupid need to fucking meddle, had descended from the sky like he’d known everything, like he’d thought the Joker becoming a dignitary from Ethiopia had been the only reason Batman was going crazy. He’d never known the truth, never bothered to look for it.)
(And after fucking Black Zero , with what guts he dared ?!)
“I tried to kill your son, Mrs Kent,” he says, locking all his muscles against the force of gravity that threatens to dig him down into a hole far deeper than six feet.
“I didn’t know yours,” she says, and her hand on him suddenly feels more like she’s the one holding him up, rather than the reverse. “A friend of mine told me yesterday that it will get better with time.”
How long has it been, and Bruce has yet to visit his son once since the day of the burial. He can’t see himself getting better, ever, or the pain to, what, subside? Disappear? One day he’ll wake up and it won’t feel like someone pierced him through the chest with a fucking spear?
(The irony that, yet again, here he is, visiting Superman ’s every so often, checking on his family, holding it together for the very person who killed so many and then got in the way to prevent the death of the Joker.)
( Joke’s on you Batman, joke’s on you, joke’s on you- )
Martha nods to herself. “I thought so.”
( AH AH AH )
They come. Fuck’s sake, they all come.
Steppenwolf must be stopped, that’s a given, and his creatures are already a danger as it is; he is perfectly aware that he cannot do it on his own, but what has asking for help done for him, in the past?
Jason, dead. Dick, barely calling once every two months or something, most of the time yelling. Hasn’t he ruined enough children, already?
Then, like the fruit from the Forbidden Tree, dangling right in front of his eyes, so very fucking tempting.
“The motherbox could bring him back!” he yells, because Diana won’t fucking get it, won’t freaking understand that, goddamnit, this is not just about fucking Superman.
(Jason, Jason, Jason-)
“You’re not getting us all killed for your guilt!”
Can’t she see? It’s not his guilt that gets people killed. It’s all the rest of him; it’s his own very existence.
“Considering his Kryptonian biology, it has actually good chances to work.”
Oh. It does make sense, doesn’t it?
( I’m sorry, Jason, I’m so sorry, Jason, Jason, I’m sorry- )
He is not such an asshole as to stop the project just because it can only work with Clark. It wasn’t a lie that he feels so maddeningly guilty over what happened to him, or that he thinks the world needs him so much more than it could ever need Batman, or that he wants him back for Martha and for Lois and for himself.
“I'm not going to blame you, you know, if you hate us for a while,” Martha says, careful, as she works on dinner for two in the kitchen of the house that might not be hers much longer. “If my son comes back to life because of your work, I could build you a monument with these bare hands of mine, but I know you wouldn't care. Because your son will not and it is- unfair and cruel and-” She takes a bit breath that's not due to the onions she's been chopping restlessly ever since he showed up to tell her the news. He's not even sure she needs so much. “You are only human, Bruce.”
Doesn’t he know that?
As he walks out, the dinner she made untouched and cold in the dish she took out for him, he pulls his phone from his pocket and he calls Lucius for a last second purchase.
Timothy Drake. Twelve or something.
If a God even exists, he would better keep an eye on Tim Drake or Bruce will personally see that it stops being . He almost killed Superman, he could do this too if he puts his mind to it.
“Stop. Following. Me.” He leaves Alfred to deal with the fallout of his outburst, of his growl and the way his voice echoed against the walls, with wide eyes full of tears and horror, because if he spends one more second with the kid-
This is not Batman! What you’ve been doing since Jason died, it’s not Batman! You need a Robin, why can’t you see it?!
He throws the brand away, he never intended to use it again anyway. As far as gestures go, it’s a rather weak one, private and of no consequences for the people who already took the mark to their skin, but the sight of that thing he couldn’t stand any longer.
The metal is cold to the touch, but he feels burned all the same.
Superman comes back, which is amazing.
Superman comes back furious and with a flebile memory of anything from before his death, which was absolutely predictable so why is everybody acting so surprised that he looks ready to murder Bruce?
(He has to stop him, he has to stay alive because he needs to make sure Martha gets her Clark back and because there’s the world to save and it might be too late for Jason but Dick is still alive, is a cop on Bludhaven and he deserves to live in a world that’s not squashed and crying under Steppenwolf’s heel.)
(Bruce cannot lose another son. He can’t.)
(It’d be so easy to just let Superman crush his windpipe, though. He’d deserve it too, honestly.)
(It’s why he left Alfred in charge of getting Lois Lane, after all. To keep himself from the temptation of not finding her.)
Diana offers comfort and platitudes and a speech about how people die for their leaders. He lets her take it off her chest because she’s been dealing with that regret for decades, but there’s a voice in his head yelling, you think I don’t know?! Why do you believe I don’t want to be in charge of this team either?
He almost tells her. It’d be so easy. Have you seen the suit in the cave?, the one exposed like in a reliquary? Of course she’s seen it, they all have. None has asked, whose suit is it? , they’ve all just assumed it was Bruce’s at some point, that it’s there to remind him of a battle he’d lost when he was so much younger and small enough to fit it. They think wounded pride put that maniac message in a theca; they don’t think-
I’m sorry they didn’t let you grieve in peace.
He doesn’t tell anything to Diana. She’s not the woman he wants to talk with right now.
He wants to call Martha, because this isn’t a conversation he could have face to face at any time, but he doesn’t because he knows she wouldn’t pick up anyway.
She’s with her son . She shouldn’t have to waste such precious time she could spend with Clark consoling Bruce instead.
Alfred makes him another awful cheap cocoa and he brings it to him, on the carpet in front of Jason’s old room, or the untouched mausoleum that was made of it. Bruce wanted to go to the cave, to the suit, but there’s Victor and Barry and Arthur and Diana walking around and this is private . The most private thing the Bat hides, and isn’t that saying something.
“There was another breach in the house security today, Sir,” his friend informs him. He sounds absolutely untouched by the whole matter, but Bruce knows him well enough to read amusement in the fine tilt of his voice. “Someone hacked our CCTV system.”
Bruce blinks twice, because this doesn’t sound like something Alfred should be amused at nor something Steppenwolf would bother with. “Hacked?”
Alfred nods. “I believe, Sir, that Mister Drake was rather vocal about his son’s proficiency with the technological means, at the last gala we hosted.”
Drake. Of course. Timothy, who else?
“I have a feeling, Sir, that this kid will not be any easier than the others to steer away from the house.”
Of course he won’t. Robin is the most coveted prize for any kid in awe of Batman. But the truth behind the bright colors and sequins is just an endless sea of blood that cannot be washed away, just fed more and more.
“Just stating a fact, Sir. We both know I would be happy if nobody ever wore that suit again, Master Bruce, but Master Timothy’s stubborness is an aspect that must be taken into account. Both Master Dick and Master Jason repeatedly got in trouble because of their own.”
And you as well , Alfred is nice enough not to mention.
Bruce takes a sip on the cocoa and doesn’t answer.
They might all die as well, whether he’s actively trying to or putting all his efforts in the opposite. Optimism and pessimism have nothing and everything to do with how this mission gets classified: a very well planned and overly complex group suicide or a desperate attempt by a bunch of people who really don’t know when to give up. Either is just as good.
Martha is busy with her son, but Bruce already knows what she’d tell him, so he punches in the digit of another number instead.
Cyborg is already inside and geeking over the black box of the Batwing, and Barry is never still enough to decide whether he’s boarded or not. Diana and Arthur are staring at him, but where he’s shaking his head and has not the graciousness to hide his lips as he mouths, playboy right? , she has a deeper look in her eyes.
She likes kids, Bruce rekons, and he has a clear memory of Alfred wrestling - all in British fashion, truly - a Wonder Woman absolutely stinky blanket from Dick’s obsessed arms.
(But what if you ruin it?
What if it starts to carry a long-dead disease?
I’ve got all my shots!
Master Dick, give me the blanket.
I’ll count to three.
You cannot tell me what to do! You’re not the boss of me!
You are right. But Master Bruce is, by all accounts, and I’ll make him ask you to.
That- You can’t do it! Bruce won’t let you! Right, Bruce? Bruce?)
“ Bruce? ”
His eyes close against the sun and he leans in the slap of the cold wind to anchor himself to the present. “Dick. Hi.”
“ What do you want, Bruce? We both know you don’t call me without reason. ” Which is depressing in its own.
If he’d have time… He probably wouldn’t be calling, then. This is a gesture that he could not see himself doing if not under the most extreme duress. “I’m leaving on a mission. Russia.”
“ Congrats and dress up thick? ” Dick’s voice is poisonous, violent, much like a razor blade: it was not made to hurt, but it has the capacity to and bad handling brings out the worst in it. “ Go. Don’t bother send a postcard. ”
“I might not come back this time, Dick.” He didn’t mean to say it like this, cold and detached, on the wave of his son’s resentment. He didn’t mean to say it at all, truly, because he’s just that kind of bastard. But Jason is dead, and Dick- “You’re all I have left.”
“ ... Bruce, what the fuck are you talking about. What does it- What’s in Russia?! ”
A psychopath alien with world domination as a hobby. “I just need you to-” No. No, no, no, he didn’t call for this, he doesn’t want his last words to his son to be an order. “Just, Alfred is going to be alone if I don’t return. I-” am sorry, so sorry, Dick, I’m sorry, “-hope you two can still hold each others up, if it happens.”
“ Fuck, Bruce, wait- ”
“I tried,” he says, because this much is true. He failed, pathetically, but he did try. He tried so much. “I love you,-” his voice is so low he himself can barely hear it. He deludes himself into thinking Diana might not, either. “-son.”
“ Bru-! ”
He hangs up.
Of course Diana’s staring at him when he turns. The expression on her face has a different clarity to itself, but as a small mercy it holds no pity or terror. When he passes her by, she tries to touch his wrist and he shrugs her fingers off.
Russia. Fight and fight and fight, all in repeat. Distract the parademons, lead them away from the rest of the team, let those with the powers to actually protect someone do this. It’s not like Bruce will ever be on par with them, anyway; he’s only human, after all.
(He read about everything on hysterical strength. The sheer rush of adrenaline that brings mothers to lift cars and fathers to stomp through fires. He knows everything there is to know, on the topic and he thinks, that’s the kind of mother that Martha Kent could be.)
(The warehouse went up in flames three feet in front of him. Ten seconds more would have been enough to just open the door and wrap Jason in the cape, shield him from the fire and the explosion, even if not from every blow landed on him by that psychopath.)
(Just ten seconds.)
“Thank the lady, we would have left you.”
He doesn’t really feel much grateful toward Diana.
It’s a blur, what happens next.
There’s parademons and parademons and parademons and Steppenwolf and, oh, more parademons. There’s Diana, there’s Arthur, there’s Berry, there’s Victor and then, oh , there’s Clark.
“I knew you didn’t bring me back because you like me,” he says, smiling, and Bruce, what is Bruce supposed to even say?
But there’s a battle to fight and a monster to destroy and a city to save. Words will have to wait.
“I changed my mind,” Clark says, laughing. “I want to die.”
It’s a joke. Like Cyborg’s about his toes; like Diana calling them children. It’s meant to be funny. Look, everybody is laughing.
Bruce doesn’t want to laugh. He wonders if Martha would?
They are all quite worse for wear, except for Diana. It seems unfair until he counts the male-to-female proportion of their group, then it does seem quite fair.
Batman is a stoic figure sitting at the cloche until Superman sighs at him. “You know I can see your bruised ribs, right?”
Barry is, for lack of better words, a worrywart. And Diana is a pushover, so Batman is dragged to the cargo bay as Superman asks Alfred, politely yet somehow with a sense of familiarity, to activate the remote control. Like the Batwing doesn’t have an automatic pilot, Kansas, really?
They nag him to lie down and then they keep talking, endless chatter of meaningless words in his - not concussed, truly, because otherwise the alien would have snitched to Alfred - head until his brain reaches the conclusion that taking a nap cannot be too bad.
Barry won’t stop talking about how many snacks he’ll need to get over the strain of this mission. It’s truly not different from Jason scarfing all the food in the pantry while talking with his mouth full about being a growing boy. He thinks about buying a fast-food restaurants chain.
They land in the lake, the plane settling itself gently into the hangar of the cave. Diana insists on helping him up, which is why he pushes himself out of her arms and stumbles to the door to get it open before she can catch him again.
Another mistake, he realizes, when the metal hisses open on a cold expression he’d grown terribly used to in the past few years.
Dick looks good, at least. A bit rumpled, still in his uniform from the BCPD, and a bit pale, but good. He put on a bit more muscle mass again and his hair grew out again, so he’s keeping them in soft strands. He has dark bags under his blue eyes, but the displeased set of the mouth and his crossed arms show more disappointment than physical hurt.
Bruce missed him so much.
“You-” Dick says, first thing, standing on top of the platform like he’s always been here, like he’s the father and Bruce the disobedient child, “-are a motherfucking asshole.”
Someone behind them whistles in amusement, while Barry’s acute spikes on the words “ Cop! ”
“I will not be the one who denies it,” Bruce says, quiet. He used to know how to talk with Dick, but lately he hasn’t even been able to handle him. That kind of cold and detached relationship they’ve kept up lately is not what he wants for them both anymore.
“You better not.” And Bruce is not standing anymore, not on his own. He’s brought forward and Dick feels horrifically big against him; an adult, not a child anymore, not someone he can hide under the cape and sweep away from the world. “Christ, Bruce, do you know how long I’ve been waiting for something like this to happen?! Every fucking time the Gotham area code appears on my phone I get cold blood. I kept waiting for Alfred to call me to tell me you were- Jesus, Bruce!”
His arms raise on their own to find Dick’s shoulders. It’s been, oh, so long since they last hugged, but the motions are still familiar somehow. “I’m sorry I scared you.”
“You fucking dingus.”
“Now, that was rude.”
Dick pulls back when he hears the pain seeping in his voice. The expression on his face says he knows Bruce is hurt and he knows Bruce would deny if asked and he doesn’t want to get into the fight that such a lie would start. Instead, he maneuvers himself under Bruce’s arm and wraps his around Bruce’s waist. “Let’s just get you to Alfred. He’ll want you whole and healed before he starts tearing you a new one.”
“May I help?”
Bruce doesn’t look toward the voice because he wants to take in Dick’s reaction fully. Predictably, his oldest starts gaping immediately and it takes him a few seconds to get his brain to function again. It’s so normal, so much like before , that Bruce lets himself smile to the sight.
Dick looks at him, expression of pure betrayal. “Wait, was this all part of your plan to calm me down if I were mad at you? Bruce! That’s cheating!” Then, he looks up and down again a few times, as if unsure. He murmurs, “Is she, like, the real Wonder Woman?”
“Her name’s Diana Prince.” He shouldn’t revel so much in the situation. He looks at her, trying to stand up straighter. “Diana, meet Richard Greyson.”
My son. My son, my child, my kid, my son, my son, my son.
“It’s an honor to meet you, ma’am!” Dick yells, because he’s still as overexcitable as he was at twelve. “I think you’re absolutely amazing and the best superhero to ever exist!” He sent a dirty look to Bruce. “Full offense to Batman, of course.”
“Okay, I’m getting lost here,” Arthur boomed from behind them. “Who’s this one?!”
Diana has probably already guessed, but everybody else looks utterly lost. The expression on Superman’s face is particularly hilarious.
Bruce hesitates a second too long and Dick squeezes his waist just a bit, before looking at the others. “I’m Bruce’s son, and I saw you guys sweeping in to save him from his own suicidal plan so, yeah, thanks about it.”
Diana laughs, so the others must be reacting, but Bruce misses it completely as the world goes black around him.
He comes to, briefly, at a certain point. There’s the ceiling, and Alfred, and Dick, and many other voices.
There’s more black.
Four days later, Bruce is finally walking again without feeling Alfred’s disapproving gaze digging a hole in his back.
Dick is still in the house, mainly enjoying watching Bruce being scolded and starting a tentative friendship with Tim. Because Tim’s parents left for some expedition somewhere around the world and he has absolutely nobody to oversee him and is therefore spending all his time at the house. Bothering Bruce about Robin, trying to make Dick stay.
Arthur left already, Barry is settling in, Diana shows up so often it’s like she never leaves at all and the biggest reason is probably how the boys hang from her every word.
Superman is at home, helping his mother move back into the house she almost lost. The house Bruce bought a bank to get back. The house he barely set foot in just yesterday, a meeting, Martha, dear, I have to go , and just for long enough to catch a glimpse of her.
He truly is, as Dick said, a bastard. The rage he’d felt at seeing her so happy, tussling her son’s hair, was absolutely undeserved and unfair. He owed her much better.
But this is not a good night. Nor a good week or a good year.
And she'd given him permission to hate her anyway.
Dick walks into his study without knocking. “I’m going,” he says. “You should come too.”
It feels like a talk that they started for months and never got around to finish. This time, Bruce nods.
Dick sighs. “You know it’s just a matter of time before Tim gets himself in troubles too, right? I don’t think we can stop him. I think the moment he found out he was already in too deep.”
“Dick,” his voice never uttered his son’s name so pleadingly . “Not tonight.”
They take the car and Alfred drives them, for no other reason than he’s coming along too. Dick has flowers, for what Jason might have cared for those in life, and Alfred copied a passage from Pride and Prejudice on a piece of paper that he tied with a soft red ribbon.
Bruce has… himself. Standing in front of his son’s grave, groveling for forgiveness, desperate: this is all he can offer Jason, and he already knows it won’t be enough to make up for the failure of his ways.
There’s a group of people at the entrance of the graveyard, and for a moment Bruce refuses to pay them any mind, because he has his own loss to grieve and no empathy left to offer someone else’s.
Then, “Oh, Bruce, dear,” and he freezes.
They’re dressed in black. He’s never seen Barry so somber, Arthur looks actually distinguished and has his hair tied in a ponytail, Cyborg has a hat in an attempt to disguise himself without a hood, and Diana is carrying a little plate in her hands.
“Offerings,” she says, when he stares, and it’s all he hears before his attention is grabbed completely.
Martha is shaking her head at him, disappointed. “Why do you insist of hurting yourself?”
“It is not your fault,” Dick hisses, his answer lightening fast from continuous repeats of the same script, over and over again. “Jesus Christ, Bruce.”
Martha steps up to him and outstretches a hand to pat his cheek. “Did you love your boy?” she asks, voice a deafening murmur in the chilly stillness of the cloudy morning.
I would trade our places in a heartbeat. ”Of course.”
“Then go say hi,” she chides. “Cemeteries are never for the dead, Bruce, souls have no use for them. They’re for the living. For those who have been left behind to have a place, a moment, just for the memory of those they loved.” She tilts her head to the gates. “I don’t think Jason much cares for how beautiful his stone is; just whether or not it gives his dad some comfort.”
Jason would, as a matter of fact, be rather put off by the decorated gravestone. There’s a baby angel statue on it and gold poured in the letters of his name. It’s tacky , he’d probably say, and a fucking waste of money, Jesus, Bruce, you really shit one hundred dollar bills, don’t you?
But Bruce had wanted… He doesn’t really know, what he wanted. An assurance that his child, still with a hoard of non-perishable foods hidden under a floorboard in his room and a bag full of sweaters and thick socks and silverware ready for an hasty escape at any moment's notice, would never fear hunger and cold and pain. He’d failed to change Jason’s life so as to ensure him long years to forget of all his suffering, so he’d tried, somehow, to make up for it in the afterlife.
How ludicrous, now that he thinks about it.
When he looks up, Superman doesn’t look much glad to be alive or happy to be there, truly. He looks uncomfortable, and rather embarrassed. He scratches the back of his head and lets his eye run between Bruce and Martha Kent as if hoping either one would speak his words for him.
What a reporter, Mister Kent, he almost says.
But Clark whispers, “I’m sorry for your loss. I had no idea.”
And that’s the whole problem, isn’t it? That nobody did. The press made a whole total of five articles about Jason Peter Todd-Wayne’s death, and then they moved on when they realized their Brucie wasn’t going to give them a spectacle for posterity, wasn’t willing to shamelessly share himself with them, naked in his pain as he’d never had troubles doing with his body.
The rumor mill turned to the next scandal so fast. Bruce had been waiting for it to happen, eager not to be stalked and yelled about his kid in his face by people who had no right to even mention him, but at the same time it had felt like betrayal.
Superman got the whole world to mourn for him. Where was it when it was Jason’s turn?
And the world has moved on, but Superman is here. The Justice League stands, waiting for permission to join the watch, and Bruce has shouldered this loss alone for so long he feels like Atlas under the weight of the world.
The brand had helped for a while, he will not lie to himself about it. In the long run, though, he’s still here.
He nods, to all of them, and just walks in. Only, barely, he waits for Martha.
He hates her, he does, but her strength, an oak’s, is a necessity if he wants to make it out of this without letting himself fall on the ground and give up moving ever again.
Dick touches his elbow, like he can read his mind.
Jason’s tombstone is pristine, like they put him in the ground just this morning. It surely feels like it. Bruce wonders, idly, who cleaned it.
Alfred greets the stone like it understands him, chatters lightly about Bruce’s most recent stunts and how he could use one of Jason’s infamous colorful expressions to be pushed to reconsider his own conduct from time to time.
Dick scoffs and rolls his eyes, but with clear fondness. He sets the flowers against the headstone, and Diana puts her plate just beside. It’s figs and cheese. Jason would probably be offended by the food waste, but the quantities are so small Bruce allows it.
She touches the stone with her fingertips, that numbers of the date, fifteen blooms on her lips as she raises herself. As she steps back, she grabs Bruce’s shoulder, hard.
He’s not sure whether it means I’m here or I’ll kill the monster if you ask me to . It’s appreciated nonetheless.
Martha nods to the picture. “He looks like his brother.”
“He looks like his father,” Dick corrects. “Stubborn asses, the both of them.”
There’s not much to say to counter that.
Bruce lets the time pass as everybody, slowly, trickles away. Superman, unsurprisingly, is second to last. There’s worry etched everywhere on his face, behind the thick glasses of Clark Kent, in the way he holds his mother’s arm because now he knows Bruce is going through what she’d been just a little ago.
Do you bleed? , he had repeated, holding Bruce by the throat.
I always am, how can’t you see?
Martha hushes him away, in the end, but she stays. “Until you’re ready, Bruce. Take your time.”
The sunset paints the graveyard red. Red like blood and fire and Robin’s suit. Red like Jason’s favorite quilt. Red like his face whenever Dick teased him. The picture, though. It has the greenest eyes.
When the light starts to fade and darkness blurs the lines of a round face and a big smile, a sudden terror spikes through his veins. Abruptly, he is possessed by the fear that if he loses sight of his son now, it’d be just like the last time, it’d be permanent and forever and he can’t stand it again, not again, not again, please, not-
“ Jaybird- ” It breaks out like crashing a dam, like Superman plowing through concrete. He hasn’t allowed to even think of the nickname ever since, always just Jason, Jason, Jason , and now it’s like the word stole every molecule of air from his lungs. “ Jaybird. ”
Martha catches him not to keep him up, but to accompany him to the ground, holding his shoulders as he shakes. Maybe he’s crying, he think he might be but he feels too rapidly detaching from his skin to be sure. He hears his voice, though, stuck on repeat.
Son , he thinks. I miss you.
Jay’s picture is still smiling at him.