Pairings/Characters (these chapters): Bruce/Dick, Jim Gordon, Barbara Gordon, Clark Kent, Donna Troy, Roy Harper, Alfred Pennyworth, Victor Fries, Julian Gray, Marcus Lincoln
Genres: Angst, Challenge/Fest, Drama, Horror
Rating (these chapters): R, PG-13, PG-13, PG-13, R, R, R
Warnings: (Ch. 1-7: Major character death, Ch.1: violence, Ch. 5-7: grave-robbing)
General Summary: What can grief drive a man to do?
Chapter Summary: Batman and Robin break up a drug-smuggling ring with disastrous results.
Chapter Summary: Dick’s loved ones say goodbye.
Chapter Summary: Barbara worries about Bruce.
Chapter Summary: Victor Fries will finally get everything he’s wanted for a long time.
Chapter Summary: Barbara and Clark tell the grim news to Bruce.
Chapter Summary: A storm batters Wayne Manor while Clark and Barbara are determined to confront Bruce.
Chapter Summary: Bruce can’t let go.
Dates Of Completion: February 17, 21, 22, 22, 23, March 7, 11, 2011
Date Of Posting: March 23, 2011
Disclaimer: I don’t own ‘em, DC does, more’s the pity.
Word Count: 711 + 583 + 806 + 983 + 499 + 1088 + 949 (Total: 5619)
Feedback welcome and appreciated.
Author’s Notes: Written for the dark_fest Challenge. Prompts: DCU/Batman, Bruce/Dick, when they started their relationship, Bruce warned Dick that he would never let him go and Dick is the Light to Bruce’s Darkness, keeping him from sliding into the abyss of madness. What happens when Dick is killed?
Also written for my 2011 DCU Fic/Art Dick Grayson Challenge.
The world shatters,
Batman looked over at Robin, his heart lifting as he saw the sparkle in his beautiful young man’s smile. Even the darkness of Gotham could not extinguish such light.
You are what I need.
Robin looked up and his smile brightened, Batman blinking. He felt slightly dizzy. Robin’s smile grew amused. He reached out and grasped his lover’s gloved hand.
“Everything okay?” Robin asked.
Batman squeezed his hand. “I’m fine.”
“Good.” Robin dashed his cape over his shoulder.
Batman smiled. Ever the showman.
They sailed off over the rooftops of Gotham, finding trouble in the nightclub district. In perfect sync, they dispatched the muggers and accepted the fervent gratitude of the victims.
They finished patrol and were back at the Manor, and the routine was comfortable as they wrote up reports, showered, and had milk and cookies left by Alfred in the kitchen.
And upstairs in the bedroom, the routine was anything but, because even though they knew each other’s bodies well, there was always something new.
As Bruce made love to Dick, he knew that he held his world in his arms. He kissed satiny-smooth skin, limbs wrapping around him as Dick purred in his ear.
Bruce felt a rush of love and desperation and tightened his hold.
“Remember, I told you a long time ago, I’ll never let you go,” Bruce whispered fiercely.
Strong hands stroked his back. “Who says I want to?” Dick whispered back.
Bruce kissed Dick with everything he had.
The moon hung low in the Gotham sky, wind picking up as gusts blew bitter cold down the streets and alleys.
Batman did not like what he was feeling. It was as if the city was waiting for something.
He crouched on the edge of a rooftop, Robin right beside him, their capes billowing out behind them. Robin was as still as he was, a skill hard-won by the young man who enjoyed movement, but he was as ninja-like as his mentor.
The drug-runners were unloading their merchandise under cover of darkness. The men doing the loading were under the watchful eyes of guards with guns, scanning for rival gangs or the police.
The Dynamic Duo waited for the arrival of the Gotham Police Department. A plane from the airport droned high in the sky, and the men below were efficient, saying little as they worked.
The GCPD arrived, led by Jim Gordon, and the operation began. Batman and Robin swooped down to take the gang by surprise, the police coming in right after.
The fight was exhilarating, Batman saving a few police and being paid in kind. He kept his eye on the bright plumage of his partner, kicking one gunman while punching another. Robin ran into an alley after one of the smugglers. He kept his attention on his opponents but something was nagging at him. Where were at least a half-dozen of the gunmen?
Batman quickly dispatched the gunmen he had been battling with and ran to the alley.
Robin was busy taking care of the missing half-dozen, turning to launch a kick at an attacker when a hail of gunfire from one of the bordering buildings sprayed the alley.
It was as if the world shattered, ruby panes of glass breaking apart into a million glittering shards, Batman’s scream like a strangled Canary Cry.
The old familiar numbness barreled through him, just like decades ago in another alley, his world turning gray at the edges. He leaped forward to catch Robin before he fell, and the beloved body was already limp in his arms, blood staining his red tunic a darker red, streaking his yellow cape with slashes of scarlet. Dimly he heard Jim Gordon’s voice and the chatter of gunfire as he snapped Robin’s lenses back, doing the same to his own. He could see the truth in Dick’s eyes.
“Dick,” he whispered.
Dick’s eyes were full of love, tinged with sadness. He lifted his gloved hand, lightly touching Bruce’s face.
“Bruce…” he whispered, his hand sliding down his lover’s chest to fall limply at his side.
Bruce felt himself sliding as the abyss waited.
Fall like rain,
Yet they cannot
Stop the pain.
The apple blossoms fluttered down on the breeze, gently showering the gleaming, mahogany casket. The smell of the earth was rich as the black-garbed mourners stood around the gravesite on this perfect spring day.
The reverend spoke the empty words, the stone angels flanking the Grayson headstone as they knelt, hands pressed together in prayer, wings folded as slight smiles touched their lips. John and Mary Grayson had rested here for years.
Bruce’s parents’ headstone was close by with more somber angels and a glossy black headstone, shiny and reflecting grief for years.
The Grayson headstone was shiny rose-pink, reflecting grief of mere days. They were all there, Barbara and Jim and Clark and Donna and Roy and everyone who had ever meant anything to Dick or to him.
Clark was next to him, Alfred on his other side, and he was like ashes-to-ashes, dust-to-dust, and he was glad of the nunbness, because all too soon the pain would start. He could feel its pinpricks at the edges of the numbness, just waiting to flare into agony. It was an old dance that regrettably he knew well.
Birds sang in the trees, robins among them. If his heart was not already broken, it would have split in two. He saw the freshly-dug hole, the end of everything, and watched the casket as it was lowered into the earth, adorned with sprays of red and yellow roses, the greenery fresh and leafy as the apple blossoms showered down onto the casket and his soul.
The Light was being swallowed up by the Darkness.
The reception at the Manor was subdued, though a group of Titans laughed as they told stories about Dick.
Bruce moved like a ghost through the room, saying the right things and accepting the sincere, sad, condolences.
Dick would want laughter and fond memories of him at his funeral, not gloom and doom.
The Manor was suited for a quiet gathering, but some form of gaiety was more fitting. Bruce did not stop the group, and others began reminiscing and laughing, their hearts aching but fond. The wake the night before had been similar in tone, because how could a wake about Dick Grayson be anything but filled with smiles and tears?
Too soon there would be silence in this house again.
He turned to see Clark standing there in his dark-blue suit, sapphire eyes showing concern from behind his thick glasses.
“Do you need something?” Bruce asked.
Bruce said nothing. What he needed was gone forever, buried under a sprinkling of roses and apple blossoms.
Clark reached out and squeezed his shoulder. “If you need anything, just ask.”
Bruce nodded, but he knew that Clark could not help him.
No one could.
For the next several days, the numbness remained. It was on the night that Bruce was preparing to return to patrol for the first time in a week that the pain broke through.
He stood in the Cave, staring down at his cowl in his hands as the bats chittered overhead. He could feel the pain breach the walls he had built and cascade over him with a bleak, blazing despair.
I can’t do this again!
His howl of grief carried up to the ceiling, the bats flying away in startled dismay.
On the Hill
Swathed in gloom.
The encroaching doom.
"The House On The Hill"
Barbara brought the brass knocker down on the door, its heavy thump echoing throughout the Manor. The wind blew, the part of her hair not covered by her knit cap rippling out behind her as she wrapped her coat more tightly around herself.
The Manor was brooding, dark and forbidding. Gotham had suffered one of the worst summers in its history, the temperature hovering around 100% for a record number of days. When autumn had arrived, people had welcomed it with immense relief. Now the days and nights were growing cold.
The door was opened by Alfred, imperturbable as ever, but Barbara could see the lines of strain around his eyes and mouth.
“Miss Barbara. Please come in.”
“Thank you, Alfred.”
He took her coat and hat, a bowl of golden chrysanthemums the only spot of bright color in the foyer. Everything looked shadowed, the chandelier’s light set on dim mode.
“Master Bruce is not home yet.”
“I’d like to wait in the library for him.”
“Certainly. Would you like something to drink?”
Barbara shook her head. “Thank you, but no.” As Alfred began to turn away, she put her hand on his arm. “How are you?”
“I will survive.”
Barbara looked into weary brown eyes. “Yes, I know.”
She walked down the hall, heels echoing in the quiet Manor.
Too quiet. Without Dick…
She quickly cut off that line of thinking, her grief stirring.
The library was empty, the grandfather clock that hid the entrance to the Batcave ticking loudly in the silence. It was dark outside the windows, leaves flying around as the wind gusted. The moon was beginning to rise, its light shimmering on the ocean.
Feeling melancholy, Barbara noticed the photograph of Bruce and Dick was no longer on the desk. She looked up at the portrait of the Waynes, seeing the little boy who stood in the circle of his parents’ love.
Why is it always this way for you, Bruce?
The Manor was swathed in gloom, as if weeping for her Prince’s loss.
An hour later, Barbara heard the front door open, the murmur of voices carrying down the hall. Footsteps came next, and Bruce entered the room.
Barbara was not surprised by the lines around Bruce’s mouth. She had seen as much when she had joined him on patrol at various times since he had resumed crimefighting.
What did shock her was the deadness in his eyes. The white lenses of the cowl had effectively hidden them before.
“Hello, Barbara.” His voice was without inflection.
“What can I do for you?” He sat down at his desk. She was surprised that he did not ask her to sit down. His manners in a situation like this were usually impeccable.
“I just wanted to see how you are.”
“You see me on patrol.”
“I do, but that’s Batman. How are you?”
He shrugged. “Surviving.”
It did not appear so, but she said, “Dad and I’d like to invite you to dinner.”
“Thank you, but I’ll have to decline.”
“I’ll see you on patrol if you’re out there tonight, Barbara.”
She bit her lip and turned to go, pausing in the doorway. Turning back, she said softly, “I miss him, too.” Bruce continued staring out the window. With a shake of her head, she left.
Out in the foyer, Alfred had her coat and hat ready for her.
“Thank you, Alfred,” she murmured, exiting into the cold.
Sadness settled into her bones as she got into her car, pulling on her gloves, and drove down the winding driveway. She stopped several feet down the road and got out of the car, taking a small path into the woods. Once she reached a small iron gate, she opened it with a squeak as she went inside.
Barbara walked through the cemetery, stopping at her mother’s headstone, then moving on to the Graysons’ grave. Hands jammed into her pockets, she said softly, “He’s really hurting, Dick.” Her eyes shimmered with tears as she saw the fresh roses on the grave. The grass had grown over the earth, sprinkled with red and yellow leaves to match the roses.
“Oh, Dick, Bruce is really lost without you.” She wiped her eyes with a gloved hand. “We all are, but none so much as Bruce. I wish there was some way to help him, but I’m afraid there isn’t.”
She sighed heartbrokenly, going over to the Wayne grave to pay her respects, and went back to her car as the wind moaned through the trees, leaves fluttering down like apple blossoms as they gleamed in the moonlight.
COLD, CLEAR NIGHTS
Beware the cowl
Of the Batman.
Old Gotham Saying
21st Century C.E.
Gotham howled as the Batman stalked her streets, a living wraith of vengeance. Since Robin’s death, crime had dropped, few criminals wanting to tangle with the Dark Knight, whose unrelenting pursuit and cold rage was more pronounced than ever.
Death seemed to be everywhere. A few days after Robin’s death, the Wayne heir, Dick Grayson, had died in a mugging gone wrong, eerily similar to the murders of Martha and Thomas Wayne years ago. The media had covered the funeral, held to the sidelines by Gotham’s Finest because Jim Gordon was not going to let his old friend be harassed.
Autumn came hard to Gotham with driving rain and hurricane-force winds, but interspersed with cold, clear nights after the tumultuous weather had left and before the next storm came.
In Arkham Asylum, the weather was of little consequence to either the inmates or staff. In Arkham, it was always cold and dark.
Which suited Victor Fries, aka Mr. Freeze, just fine. In his special cell, cold was what he needed to live. Kept at the proper subzero temperature, he was able to move freely, his special suit only used when he left the cell, which was rare.
He was far from content, but he was allowed periodic updates on his wife Nora. She was all he lived for, the reason he kept getting up in the morning. If a cure could be found for her, it would all be worthwhile, every crime, every rubbing of elbows with the insane rogues of Gotham.
Sitting on his bunk, Victor gazed out his cell window. It probably was safer here in Arkham at the moment. anyway. Batman was not in his right mind, of that he was sure. Ever since his young partner had been killed, the Dark Knight had been on the warpath, so to speak, and even the biggest villains were thinking carefully about pulling any jobs in Gotham.
Victor rested his back against the cell wall, ready to start reading a book from the prison library when he realized that he was not alone.
Light pooled in the center of the cell, leaving the edges dark. Perfect for the…
The Dark Knight emerged from the shadows, cape swirling around him.
Victor smiled a blue-lipped smile. “To what do I owe the honor of this visit? I am not planning any crimes.”
“At the moment.”
Victor laughed. “What do you want, Batman?”
“I have need of your specialized knowledge, Doctor.”
“Oh? And if you get that knowledge from me, what do I get?”
“The opportunity to be with your wife and conduct the research to find a cure for her disease.”
Victor raised an eyebrow. “Continue, Batman.”
Batgirl’s cape snapped in the breeze as she stood on the roof of a jewelry store on the posh street known as the Diamond Coast. It was another cold night in Gotham. She was alert for anything, especially as Halloween was only a few weeks away.
A squad car pulled up and the officer riding in the passenger seat got out and waved to her to come down. She shot out her decel line and was down on the street in seconds.
“Good evening, Officer.”
“Evenin’, Batgirl. We just got word that there’s been a break-out at Arkham.”
“I’ll be right there.”
Batgirl ran off to where her motorcycle was parked and gunned it for Arkham.
The head of the staff at Arkham, Dr. Julian Gray, was a tired-looking man in his fifties whose gray hair and white physician’s coat was rumpled. The Chief of Security, Marcus Lincoln, rubbed his dark-hued face and looked like he would happily retire at the drop of a hat, Batgirl thought.
Considering this madhouse, I can’t blame either of them.
She wondered where Batman was as she was led to Victor Fries’ cell, but there was no clue as to how he had escaped.
“Did anyone notify S.T.A.R. Labs?” Batgirl asked.
“S.T.A.R. Labs?” asked Gray.
“That’s where Nora Fries is.”
Jim Gordon strode down the dark hall. “S.T.A.R. Labs called me. Nora Fries is gone.”
Batgirl sighed. “Of course.” She crossed her arms. “She couldn’t leave herself since she’s in cryogenic freeze, so someone took her and had to place her in a facility that can support her in her present state. If we find that place, we’ll find Fries.”
Batman suddenly appeared. “Any other escapes?” he rasped.
“Penguin and Poison Ivy,” said Lincoln.
“They’ll both go to ground for awhile. Fries will be easiest to locate.” Batgirl already was running through possible locations for the star-crossed couple in her mind.
“That may be so, but Penguin and Ivy are dangerous. We have to concentrate on all three.” Batman was gone before Batgirl could answer.
Jim sighed. “He’ll never be the same.”
Batgirl could not argue with that.
Barbara sighed, her weariness bone-deep. She stared at her reflection in the glossy pink marble.
“We found Penguin and Ivy. We haven’t found Fries or Nora.” The wind whipped her long, red tresses as she huddled in her coat. “I wish…”
Her voice drifted off into the wind. She curled her gloved hands into fists, deep in her coat pockets. There were always fresh flowers on the grave, courtesy of Bruce.
Probably Alfred, too.
She had brought by flowers periodically, too. She set a bouquet of orange chrysanthemums next to the long spray of roses stretched out in front of the headstone when she noticed something. She took her hand out of her pocket and examined the ground closely, pushing the elaborate spray aside. Her heartbeat sped up.
The earth beneath had been freshly dug up.
The earth growls,
Clark walked up to the Grayson grave. He put a hand on Barbara’s shoulder.
“Thanks for coming, Clark.” The wind whipped Barbara’s hair.
“You sounded so upset over the phone. What’s wrong?”
“Have you seen Bruce lately?”
Clark sighed. “Just at last week’s JLA meeting. I’ve been off-world a lot lately, but the few times I have been in Gotham, Bruce has been…” He hesitated.
“I know.” Barbara gently pushed aside the spray of roses as Clark set a bouquet of red and yellow chrysanthemums on the grave. “Take a look at this.”
Clark frowned. “The earth has been disturbed.”
Barbara took a deep breath. “Could you check the coffin with your X-ray vision?”
Startled, Clark swallowed, hesitating, then looked down at the ground. He focused his gaze, Barbara watching him intently. She saw his face reflect his horror.
“It’s empty,” he whispered.
Barbara used the brass knocker on the front door, its heavy sound echoing throughout the Manor. She and Clark were heavy-hearted as they waited. The door opened and Alfred smiled. “Ah, Master Clark and Miss Barbara. Please come in.”
“Thank you, Alfred,” Barbara said as she and Clark stepped inside. “Is Bruce in?”
“Down in the Cave.”
She and Clark walked down the hall and entered the library, opening the grandfather clock and heading down the stone steps to the Batcave.
Clark’s heart broke as he saw Bruce, the other man’s cowl off. Dark circles were deep under his eyes, his hair disheveled and his eyes sunken. It was an item of gossip that Bruce Wayne had shut himself up in the Manor and never left it anymore. If he had not gone out on patrol every night, that would be true.
“What is it?” Bruce asked.
“The earth in front of Dick’s headstone was dug up. The spray of roses hid it.”
“How could the roses hide an open grave?”
“It’s not open,” Barbara interjected. “It was re-packed.”
“What are you saying, Barbara?” A flicker of emotion shadowed Bruce’s face.
“I’m saying…” She hesitated.
“…that someone has taken Dick’s body,” Clark said softly.
Bruce’s stare was unnerving as he tried to comprehend what Clark had just said. Finally he mumbled, “I need to see the grave.”
He changed into his civilian clothes and went with his friends to the cemetery. He set aside the roses and studied the ground, dropping to his knees and clawing at the earth.
“Bruce!” Barbara grabbed one arm.
“Let go,” Bruce growled.
“Bruce, what are you doing?” Clark grabbed the other arm.
“I have to see!”
“Trust me, the coffin’s empty.”
Bruce stopped, crumpling in on himself. “Dick,” he breathed, his fingers still dug into the dirt.
“We’ll find him, Bruce,” Clark promised.
Bruce reached a shaking hand to touch the carved letters of Dick’s name as the wind howled.
Streaks the horizon,
And stormy white
As the horror
"Down By The Graveyard
And Other Poems"
The bizarre case kept Bruce, Clark and Barbara hopping. Barbara and Clark thought that it might be a case of celebrity hunters taking a grotesque souvenir.
“There are so many sickos in Gotham, I’m not surprised,” said Barbara sourly as she tapped computer keys in the Fortress.
Clark rubbed his eyes. “Sometimes humanity puzzles me.”
“Welcome to the human race.”
Both of them were trying hard to keep a clamp on their emotions. The macabre nature of the case was bad enough, but there was the emotional component of a loved one in the mix. Barbara was angry that someone had disturbed her old friend’s rest, and Clark was appalled. As for Bruce, they knew that he was enraged and anguished, but as usual he kept a tight rein on what he was feeling. He was in uber-Bat-mode right now.
Clark crossed his arms. “Any lead on Fries?”
“No. It’s as if he vanished off the face of the earth.” She sighed. “Maybe it’s for the best.” At Clark’s quizzical look, she explained, “Mr. Freeze’s crimes were part bitterness, part getting money to continue his research to cure his wife and himself. Maybe he has enough money now to just conduct research. He’s obsessed with Nora.”
“Understandable, as Nora is suspended in cryogenic freeze to arrest her disease. She’s almost as good as dead to him. Grief makes people do strange things.”
Barbara ran her fingers through her ruby hair, her cowl pushed off. She stared at the computer screen. “There’s something off about this.”
“I know.” Clark stared down at his boots. “I can’t quite put my finger on it.”
“Bruce said he’s getting close to finishing the upgrade of the computers in the Cave. Unfortunate that he was changing over just when we discovered Dick’s grave had been disturbed.” She closed her eyes. “Damn. I still can’t believe it.”
Clark looked up. “I know. I can’t believe it, either.” His blue eyes were sad. “I miss him.”
Barbara wiped her eyes. “I know. I patrol Gotham and half-expect to see this flash of yellow cape and his smile as he lands on the rooftop beside me.” She slammed her hand against the console. “Damnit, Clark, he went up against loons like the Joker and Killer Croc and Bane and some fuckin’ penny-ante drug smugglers mow him down in a fuckin’ alley!”
Barbara’s voice kept rising until she was shouting. Clark put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed gently.
Barbara put her hand over Clark’s and resumed searching. Clark released his hand and conducted his own computer search, sitting down in the next chair. Silence reigned except for voice commands and the clicking of keys.
Several minutes later, Clark asked, “Barb, did you see this?”
“This order for equipment.”
They had been searching for any orders that might be useful to Victor Fries. Barbara’s expert hacking skills had come in handy. She looked at Clark’s screen. “That’s the kind of equipment Fries always used for his cryogenic research. What kind of cover did he use this time?”
“T & M Industries."
Barbara’s eyes widened. “That’s a subsidiary of Waynetech.”
They stared at each other.
Alfred looked up, startled. “Superman? Batgirl?”
A storm raged outside, wind howling mournfully as the trees bent down in supplication, their leaves flailing on limbs and tearing off to dance wildly in the wind, ocean waves crashing on the rocks below.
“Sorry to slip inside in costume.” A dripping-wet Clark and Barbara stood in Alfred’s bailiwick, the kitchen. “We need to ask you a few questions,” he said.
“Of course. Would you like some tea?”
“No, thank you.” Clark was saddened to see that Alfred looked as if he had aged ten years. “How has Bruce been lately?”
“Driven. Obsessed. More like the early days before he brought Master Dick home that night from the circus.”
“Dick certainly settled him down,” Clark said with an affectionate smile.
“Quite so.” Alfred sighed. “The light went out of this house when Master Dick died. And out of Master Bruce, too.” Alfred sat down as if too tired to keep standing. “He is always down in the Cave now. He barely functions as Bruce Wayne.”
“I’m sorry.” Barbara put a hand on his arm.
“Can you help?”
She smiled. “We’re certainly going to try.”
Barbara and Clark walked down the hall to the library past the marble busts in alcoves and suits of shining armor, the lights flickering, but they stayed on. The wind tore at the Manor as if trying to pry out a secret. Barbara murmured, “Alfred really doesn’t know or suspect. He’s usually so perceptive.”
As the clock opened, Clark said, “He’s either too grief-stricken himself or has noticed but can’t quite face it.”
“Alfred can’t face something?” Barbara asked as they descended the steps.
“I know, but this is such a…a dire situation. It can cloud the judgment of even the sharpest of men. And there’s his grief to consider.”
“Grief does strange things to a person,” Barbara said softly.
Clark squeezed her shoulder. Barbara had lost her mother years ago.
The Cave appeared empty, the computers turned on, but no Bruce sitting at the console. The bats rustled overhead, the hum of the computers quiet. Wind whistled through the Cave from the storm.
“Where is he?” Barbara fretted. She hated the upcoming confrontation and wanted to get it over with.
“I’m not sure.” Clark scanned the Cave and frowned. “I thought there was only one lead-lined vault in use.”
“Bruce does have two. Maybe he decided to use the second one.”
“I guess so.”
“Let’s see what he’s up to.”
Clark knew that they were risking Bruce’s wrath but felt driven to go forward, something primal urging him on as another part of him recoiled in horror. From what they had been able to track down via computer…
He and Barbara stood before the second steel door, Barbara ready to slam it shut if it should house Green Kryptonite as the first vault contained.
Clark tried the lever but found the door locked. He hesitated only a moment, then wrenched the door open with a low groan of metal.
He and Barbara stepped inside, the horror growing as cold slammed into them like an Arctic tidal wave.
They had found the missing body of Dick Grayson.
Captures you and me,
In our bones deep,
As comes the big sleep.
Selina St. Cyr
The horror washed over Clark and Barbara like an icy sea. They both stared at the macabre sight before them: a glass coffin was set on a catafalque piled high with white roses. Within the coffin was the body of Dick Grayson, part of the coffin frosted over.
Clark’s stomach was knotted, and Barbara’s breathing hitched beside him. He could see cables running from the catafalque to machines lining the walls. The lighting in the vault was soft except for the spotlight shining down on the coffin. A slash of black contrasted with the bright colors.
“Bruce,” Barbara whispered in a cracked voice.
Bruce’s cowl was pushed back as he smiled down at the coffin, cape pooled around him.
“You found me.”
“That’s right,” Clark said carefully.
“I told Dick that I’d never let him leave.”
Clark and Barbara came closer to the coffin, Clark startled to see that the roses were not white, but red and yellow, their colors faint under their coating of ice. They sparkled like diamonds.
“You helped Victor Fries escape,” said Barbara.
“That’s right, in exchange for telling me how to set this up.”
“You gave him cryogenic equipment, too.”
“That’s right.” Bruce lovingly caressed the glass top of the coffin. “Nora is his everything.”
Clark and Barbara exchanged sad looks, then Clark said, “Bruce, you can’t do this. Dick should be…”
“Where, Clark? In the ground? In the dark where his Light is extinguished?” Bruce asked in a clipped voice. He shook his head. “No. He needs to be here…with me.”
The cold seeped into Clark and Barbara’s bones as they both shuddered. Clark’s heart ached for his friend’s pain. “Bruce…”
“No!” Bruce banged a fist on the coffin. “Don’t ask me to, Clark. You don’t understand.” His face contorted in pain. “I can’t do this again. I can’t…” His hand on the top of the coffin curled into fists as his eyes closed. “Do you know what it’s like to wake up every morning and for just a moment, not remember? And then you do, and the knowledge slams into you like a sledgehammer?”
Clark bit his lip. No, he didn’t know how it felt. His parents were alive and healthy, and even the loss of Krypton and his birth parents were in the abstract. He had been just a baby when Krypton had exploded.
Bruce’s eyes opened, and Clark could see the wild light behind midnight blue. “You try to get through each day and alternate between numbness and agony. And it doesn’t get better, it just gets buried so deeply that it becomes a part of you. The memories are good but bring you pain, too. You can’t stop the ache in your chest no matter what you do.” He curled a fist on his chest over his heart. “There’s a hole in me that will never be filled.”
Clark could hear Barbara’s small sigh of sadness. He ached to reach out to Bruce, whose pain throbbed like something alive.
“Do you know what Dick brought to me?” Bruce began caressing the coffin lid again.
Clark could see Dick’s peaceful face. The body had not been in the grave long enough for significant decay. The frozen roses surrounding the coffin glittered in a macabre echo of Dick’s natural sparkle.
“Do you know what it’s like to be empty for years with old grief and to have your pain eased by someone who was sunlight itself? Dick brought light and laughter to this house. He and Alfred and I were a real family.”
Clark could hear the sounds of the storm so far overhead. It was crackling as if in either anguish or rage at what lay deep under the Manor, but he didn’t know which. Its electricity was like a living thing, attacking and howling as the winds blew with gale force intensity, rattling the windows of the great house and tearing the leaves off the trees.
“I love him! I love him with everything I have. I can’t live without him, not anymore. I can’t live long, empty years without him. I won’t do it!”
“Bruce!” Barbara cried, unable to stand it anymore.
“Bruce, please,” Clark said, inching closer to his friend, trying not to look into the coffin.
“Do you know what it’s like to feel yourself sliding toward the abyss and know you can’t stop?” Bruce whispered, his face a pasty-white as he trembled, clutching the coffin. “He wasn’t there to stop me. But he’s here now.”
Clark clutched his friend’s arm. “Bruce, you can’t do this.”
“I have to,” came the broken whisper.
“Dick wouldn’t want this.”
Bruce looked wildly at Clark, his eyes burning with grief and madness. “Don’t make me,” he pleaded.
Clark felt his heart constrict. All his great strength crumbled like stone smashed by Nature’s fury, compassion and pain rolling into one as tears slid down Bruce’s face, Clark squeezing his arm.
The tears splashed onto the icy roses, glittering like pain in a frozen sea. Bruce looked down at the peaceful visage under glass, and Clark saw the moment that his old friend returned to sanity, knowing how bizarre this all was before the madness washed back over him like the tide and pain erupted like a volcano.
Bruce threw himself on the coffin and wailed like a wounded animal, the agonized cry spiraling up from the depths of the Batcave to pierce through the Manor and smash up into the storm, burning like lightning and shaking like thunder as the Manor wept.