Title: Waves Upon The Shore (17-24/24)
Pairings/Characters: Ray Henderson, Mystery Man, Clark/Bruce (Clark does not appear in Ch. 8 & 20, Bruce does not appear in Ch. 9 & 10), Dick, Alfred, Lucius Fox, Perry White, J’onn J’onzz, Diana Prince, Jonathan/Martha, Ollie/Dinah, Jim Gordon, Barbara Gordon, Reverend Aloysius Abernathy, Linda Danvers, Lana Lang
Genres: Angst, Challenge, Drama, Hurt/Comfort, Mystery
Rating: NC-17 overall
Warnings: (Ch. 6: Violence; Ch. 23: Description of disfigurement)
Beta: The wonderful me_ya_ri. All mistakes are mine.
Art by: The talented min_taiwan. Art can be found here.
Summary: When Bruce is blinded, he and Clark must adjust to their new lives.
Dates Of Completion: July 25-September 11, 2011
Date Of Posting: November 18, 2011
Disclaimer: I don’t own ‘em, DC does, more’s the pity.
Word Count: 23,139
Feedback welcome and appreciated.
Author's Notes: Written for the 2011 SuperBat Big Bang.
The basics of this idea was taken by a Bronze Age Imaginary Story (substituting Bruce for Lois): Bruce’s blindness and Clark’s accident. Everything else is my own, especially the ending, as I never did get the chance to read the second part of this tale. Someday I hope to find that issue! :)
This is NOT a deathfic, BTW, even it if appears to be.
All chapters can be found here.
My old friend,
I’m come to talk with you again,
Because a vision softly creeping,
Left its seeds while I was sleeping."
Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel
"The Sound Of Silence"
"Sounds Of Silence" (Album)
“Master Bruce, it’s time.”
Bruce roused himself from the darkness. He rose from his chair in his bedroom, silently following Alfred, taking his arm out in the hall. They went down the grand staircase, Dick waiting at the bottom.
The ride to the church was silent, Bruce remembering the day of his wedding…
“And you think that Sasha Colby will cry crocodile tears?” Dick teased as Alfred drove him and Bruce to the church.
“Of course. She set her cap for me years ago.”
“And she’s outraged that you chose the frumpy country boy over her.”
“Oh, yes.” Bruce said with a gleam of white teeth as Dick laughed.
The church was silent, footfalls echoing as Alfred and Dick escorted Bruce down the aisle. He could hear the rustling of silk and the occasional whisper or cough.
They settled in the front pew, Barbara and Jim Gordon murmuring their condolences. Lucius squeezed his hand.
The Reverend Abernathy began the service. Bruce knew that there was no coffin on the altar. He remembered the chaotic days after the explosion…
“We can’t find the body.”
“We’ve looked over every inch of the sea. Arthur says there’s no sign.”
“Then we continue searching. He could still be alive.”
“Bruce, it’s been days.”
“I will not give up.”
“I cannot sense Kal-El’s mind, Bruce.”
The voices jumbled together. All he really remembered was the dread sitting like a stone in the pit of his stomach, the sense of urgency, his frustration at not being able to conduct the search himself.
In the end, it was J’onn’s words about not being able to sense Clark’s mind that was the death knell.
The service for Superman in Metropolis was spectacular, because even without a body, the good citizens knew that if he could, he would have crawled back to his city. The headstone in the city cemetery was modest, but it was what Superman would have preferred.
And now Clark Kent had to die.
The service was simple, and the ride to the cemetery silent. There would be a service in Smallville tomorrow. Bruce had not decided whether he was going or not.
Words were spoken at the cemetery. Clark’s name was carved on the stone, but only his date of birth. This was no funeral, because there was no body.
Bruce heard the words the reverend spoke. The March day was cold but clear. Alfred said the sun was out. Dick remained silent, whether from grief or weariness, he was not sure.
Probably both. I don’t think he’s slept in a week.
Dick was dealing with his and Bruce’s grief, running around one night as Batman and the next as Robin, and still trying to keep up his studies. Bruce feared that it was all too much, but he needed Dick.
And yet he felt adrift, unable to care about much. He let Alfred make his daily decisions for him. All he could think about was that Clark was dead, because he would have come back to him if he was alive.
Out of respect for Jonathan and Martha, he went to Smallville for the service. Dick and Alfred came, too, and the little church was packed with mourners. Clark would have been pleased to see all the love and caring, Alfred observed.
That night they spent a quiet evening with Clark’s parents at the farmhouse, the conversation turning to his childhood.
“And I caught him at the swimmin’ hole, goofing off when he should have been picking corn.” Jonathan’s voice was light.
“Clark was goofing off?” Dick asked with a lilt in his voice.
“I never would have dreamed of such a thing.” His amusement was obvious.
“Clark’s favorite pastime was swimming,” Martha said. “After flying, that is.”
“I can relate to that.”
“Yes, Clark told me your love of flying.”
”He was right about that.”
Martha’s voice conveyed joy as she reminisced, underlaid with sorrow. Bruce could barely stand it. He craved to be alone, but wanted to have people around him. Aware of the paradox, he sighed.
“Well, it’s time for a light supper, I think,” said Martha.
“I’ll help,” said Dick. Alfred also offered his assistance.They went into the kitchen.
Jonathan said gently, “Would you like to come out on the porch, Bruce?”
They put on their coats and hats and stood on the porch, breathing in cold air, a crow cawing in a nearby tree. Bruce leaned against the wall, folding his arms. Jonathan was close, maybe leaning or sitting on the railing.
“We’ll find him someday,” Jonathan said.
“Maybe it’s better we don’t.”
“Maybe.” Jonathan’s old coat smelled faintly of tobacco. He had quit smoking years ago, but the rich scent remained. “He loved you more than anything.”
Bruce winced against the pain. “I know.”
“He died saving people.”
“He died because Intergang was smuggling in Kryptonite.”
“He still would have helped, even if he’d known.”
Bruce nearly sobbed. “I know.”
They stayed out on the porch until Martha called them in to supper.
Bruce began working with Dick and Barbara again, but his heart was no longer in it. He went through the motions, and as the days turned into weeks and months, he felt compelled to make a pilgrimage.
On the first anniversary of the explosion, Bruce visited Superman’s grave, face shadowed, after everyone had gone. A reporter noticed him, and the legend of the ‘Mystery Man’ began.
Bruce returned on the second anniversary, but it was his first time in Gotham in a year.
The rocks stand
Like silent sentinels
As the sea washes them
"The Sea Eternal"
“Alfred, I can’t stay here anymore.”
“Where would you like to go, sir?”
So it was that Bruce and Alfred left Wayne Manor. Dick stayed behind to protect Gotham with the help of Barbara, Linda, and the JLA and Teen Titans when necessary.
Gray Rock was a small island off the coast of Maine with Bar Harbor as the embarkation point, though the mainland could not be seen from the island. The only inhabitants were Bruce and Alfred. The sense of isolation was complete.
Isolation was exactly what Bruce wanted. He no longer wanted connection with the outside world. The only connection he kept was with Dick and occasionally Diana and J’onn, to make sure that Dick was truly all right.
Alfred took to the cottage with enthusiasm, airing it out, cleaning from top-to-bottom, and taking care of his charge. He also kept in touch with Dick as he was worried about him, too, but otherwise he achieved a sort of peace here.
He wished that he could say the same about his charge. The ‘cottage’ was actually a large two-story house, weathered gray shingles and a gambrel roof giving it a seaside appearance. There was an old-fashioned veranda wrapped around the first floor, and a large living room, library, dining room and kitchen on the first floor. The second floor consisted of four large bedrooms and a bathroom. Not exactly Wayne Manor, but it would do nicely, Alfred said.
Bruce knew that others were surprised at his withdrawal from the Mission, but he had a hole inside him now that could never be filled. His parents’ murders had driven him with rage and purpose. Clark’s death had been almost random, although Intergang was at the heart of it.
For the first time in his life, he no longer cared about vengeance or justice. It was as if the passion for both had been ripped out of him as surely as Clark’s life had been taken from him.Bruce drifted through the days eating the fine meals that Alfred prepared for him, listening to music or books on tape, occasionally signing papers for Lucius that his CEO and friend brought or sent to him on the ferry, spending his mornings on the beach that was close to the two-story cottage.
He could have rattled through the airy rooms, but he eschewed the interior for at least three hours a day, staying inside only when it rained, and only then if it was heavy rain. Light rain saw him walking along the beach, hands thrust in his yellow slicker’s pockets.
He could have chosen a South Pacific island, but it was too much like Hawaii. No, better to be here in the Atlantic, the colder and harsher weather something he was used to as an East Coast native.
Alfred was the perfect companion: helpful, discreet, and without censure. Even Dick kept his normally-ebullient self on a more subdued level, recognizing that Bruce could not handle unfettered brightness right now.
Maybe I never will again.
Instead Bruce found a peace of sorts on his island, remembering happier times as he let the days pass.
When he returned to Gotham for his visit to Superman’s grave in Metropolis, it was almost as if he was a ghost drifting through the Manor and the cemetery.
He smiled slightly as he walked in the rain, the murmur of voices far away.
You’re right, Clark I do use theatrics.
But it was not theatrics when he stepped at the grave, putting the yellow roses and sunflowers in front of the stone. The pain overwhelmed him as he dropped to his knees in the wet grass, tracing the carved letters of Superman’s name.
What drove him here to this grave? Clark was not here, but neither was he in the grave in the Gotham cemetery where his parents lay.
Maybe it was because you died as Superman; I don’t know. All I know is that I have to acknowledge you.
He bowed his head, the rain running off the brim of his fedora.
The next day on Gray Rock, the storm had passed. Alfred calmly informed him of the day’s beauty, though Bruce could hear the slight tremor in his voice.
I’m sorry for all you’ve had to go through, old friend. I know you loved Clark, too.
Sometimes he thought he could hear Clark’s voice calling out to him over the sea, but of course it was all his imagination as the waves lapped the shore.
What a silly romantic you are.
Bruce took a deep lungful of air. It smelled like the sea always did, salty and bracing, and the seagulls were particularly raucous this morning.
Bruce shook his head. He was hearing things again.
“How are you?”
Bruce halted, surprised. “Who’s there?”
“Just a beachcomber.”
The voice was raspy and Bruce could hear shuffling footsteps on the sand. An old man?
“Hello.” Bruce’s body was ready to fight. Old habits died hard. “I didn’t know anybody else lived on the island.”
“Folks tend to keep to themselves.”
Bruce began walking again. The shuffling steps fell in beside him.They were silent as they walked together, the sound of the sea the only accompaniment. Occasionally a rasping wheeze came from Bruce’s companion.
He wanted to ask if the man was all right, but he refrained. He disliked it when people called attention to his infirmities, so he was willing to give this man the same courtesy.
They sat on some flat rocks, and Bruce listened to the sounds of the sea, a buoy’s bell clanging several yards away. Some time later, Bruce checked the face of his watch and said, “I’m going up to the house for lunch. Care to join me?”
“No, thank you. I have lunch waiting.”
“Okay.” Bruce got to his feet. “Nice meeting you.”
“Same here.” Bruce returned to the cottage, a lunch of hot turkey sandwich, salad, and mint tea waiting for him. He did not mention the man he had met on the beach.
The next morning, Bruce walked on the beach, listening hard, but was disappointed. His companion of the previous day probably had fishing or other tasks to do.
He’s not the idle rich, you know, Brucie. He smiled slightly, then sighed. It’s probably for the best.
That was when he heard the shuffling steps on the sand, falling into step beside him.
Of the waves eternal,
Heals a heart
Broken and torn.
"The Sea Eternal"
Bruce and his companion fell into a comfortable routine: the beachcomber would fall into step with Bruce, and they would walk down the beach and end up sitting on the rocks. They rarely spoke except for Bruce announcing that he was going back to the house for lunch. He had told his companion that he had an open invitation to join him, but the man never took him up on it.
Bruce was not insulted. Men who were fiercely independent liked to keep the socializing to a minimum. If this man was a native of Maine, being taciturn and introverted was just part of his DNA.
One day, he put out his hand. “I’m Bruce.”
There was a moment’s hesitation, then a hand closed over his and shook. “Joe,” he said in a raspy voice. The hand was big and gnarled.
Probably a fisherman or lobsterman.
They returned to silence, but Bruce was fine with that. He felt comfortable with Joe, and that was all the mattered on this cold March day.
A few days later, Bruce asked Joe, “Are you a fisherman?”
“I thought so.”
“Yes. Your hand is a hard-working man’s hand.”
“Ah.” Joe sounded amused.
“I used to fish when I was a kid.”
Bruce nodded. “There was a beach close to my house and I fished down there.” He sighed. “I haven’t fished in years, though, not since my ward was a boy.” He smiled in remembrance of those times with Dick.
“Tomorrow, you will.”
Joe helped Bruce bait his hook, and they cast their lines into the sea.
“Fishing’s a good pastime,” said Bruce.
“Yes.” Joe’s voice was contemplative. “It allows the soul peace.”
Bruce could certainly understand a craving for peace.
His line tugged. “I’ve got a bite!” He played the fish, laughing as he reeled it in, nearly falling off the rock.
Bruce fell against Joe, still laughing, and with a surge of emotion, kissed him.
He froze, certain that he had made a mistake until Joe kissed him back. Bruce reached a hand up to touch is companion’s face when Joe abruptly pulled away, scrambling to rise.
“Joe, wait, I’m sorry!”
“I’m not,” rasped Joe, then was gone.
Bruce was worried that he had scared Joe off, maybe for good. When Joe did not appear the next day, he was certain of it. Plunged into depression, Bruce returned early to the cottage, complaining of a headache as he went to his room.
He lay on his bed, listening to the steady rhythm of the ocean. Why was he so upset? So he had scared Joe off. His heart belonged to Clark, not some fisherman with a raspy voice and whom he felt comfortable spending time with in silence.
It was ridiculous.
So why does my heart hurt so much?
The next day it rained heavily, so Bruce stayed inside, sitting by a roaring fire as he drank mint tea and listened to the radio, a big, old-fashioned Philco that absolutely delighted Alfred.
Bruce listened to the rain pounding on the roof and the sea crashing on the rocks. He hoped that Joe had the good sense to stay off the ocean today. He closed his eyes, the radio a low murmur in the background.
Tomorrow if the weather was good, he would go walk on the beach again, and maybe even fish. This time he would bring his catch home and Alfred could fry it up for him.
He would be just fine.
The next day Bruce went out with a fishing pole, Alfred wryly amused. Bruce began his walk, faltering as he hard shuffling footsteps behind him.
“Good morning,” he said.
He and Joe walked to the fishing spot, casting their lines. Bruce laughed as he caught his first fish.
“I brought a bucket for each of us,” Joe said.
It sounded as if it hurt Joe to talk, but Bruce refrained from commenting. Maybe Joe had suffered an illness that had damaged his vocal cords, or maybe he was a former smoker.
“You must be a successful fisherman.”
“My people are simple folk. We live off land and sea.”
They fished for a little while longer, Joe catching two and Bruce two more, dropping them into the bucket. Joe picked up his bucket.
“See you tomorrow.”
“Yes, see you tomorrow.”
That night over a dinner of fried fish, brown rice, and beefsteak tomatoes, Alfred said, “Good to see you so fond of fishing again, sir.”
Bruce smiled as he lifted his wineglass. “Good to get back to the basics, old friend.”
The fishing had been added to their routine, along with a little conversation. Bruce told stories of his childhood, and Joe spoke about fishing and the sea.
“It’s elemental, the sea. Wild and untamed, but capable of soothing you if you let it.”
“I remember its beauty.”
“Yes, beauty is important.”
Bruce wanted desperately to run his fingers over Joe’s face. He wanted to get an idea of what his companion looked like. Was his nose Roman or Gallic, or a broken fighter’s nose? Was his jaw strong and his cheeks broad or sharp? What color were his eyes and hair?
Or did it really matter? Maybe his imagination should suffice.Two lonely men finding solace in each other.
He felt a little guilty at finding himself caring for someone who was not Clark.
The wind blew in his face, ruffling his hair. A plane droned far in the distance, a lobster boat’s motor churning as it chugged along.
For now, it was enough.
It was a beautiful morning, and the fish were biting. Bruce felt completely relaxed, content to continue his rather odd romance, the pain in his heart a little less sharp. As he reeled in a fish, he heard a familiar voice call his name.
“Over here, Dick!”
Dick’s step was quick, and Bruce could hear the smile in his voice.
“I remember our fishing trips together. Any luck?”
“Pretty good.” Bruce was about to introduce Joe when he realize that Dick had not said hello to the fisherman or said, “I’m Dick Grayson, Mister…?” so Bruce deduced that Joe had disappeared.
Dick settled on the rock next to him. “This sure is a beautiful spot.”
“Get someone to cover for you and spend a few days here.”
“I just might.”They sat in comfortable silence for awhile, then Bruce asked, “Is everything okay?”
Dick sighed. “Mostly. I just…” His voice was hesitant. “There’s something odd about the Fortress.”
Bruce felt his chest tighten. “What do you mean?”
“I’m not sure.” Dick skipped a stone across the water. “I just get a feeling that the A.I. is being evasive, if that makes sense.”
Clark had given passcodes to Bruce, Dick, and Diana years ago for the Fortress, and of course Linda had her own, and had given one to Barbara. Dick still like to go to the Fortress on occasion.
We all have our ways of coping.
“Oh, when I ask it a question, it’ll answer, but it seems to be holding something back.” Bruce figured that Dick was shrugging. “I guess it sounds silly.”
Bruce put his hand on Dick’s arm. “Always trust your instincts. You’ve got some of the best instincts I’ve ever seen.”
Dick’s answer was warm. “Thanks, Bruce.” He patted his mentor’s hand. “I guess I just need to ask it the right questions.”
They sat in companionable silence for awhile, then Bruce asked, “Everything all right in Gotham?”
“Yeah, it’s Star City I’m worried about.”
“You mean it’s Roy you’re worried about.”
“You know me well,” said Dick in amusement. “Roy did a stint undercover as a Government agent and, well, he’s got a daughter.”
Bruce raised an eyebrow. “Who’s the mother?”
Bruce was going to make a sarcastic comment, but as a man who had dallied with Selina Kyle and Talia Al-Ghul, he had not right to criticize.
“Is he certain?”
“He’ll be getting a paternity test done when he picks the girl up.” Dick took a deep breath. “I’m going with him.”
Bruce tightened his grip. “It could be a trap.”
“Don’t worry, I’m being very Bat-like in the planning.”
Bruce chuckled. “Good.”
“Well, it’s lunchtime.”
Bruce laughed. “Your stomach clock rumbling?”
“You know it!”
Dick picked up Bruce’s bucket and Bruce carried his fishing pole.
Back at the house, Alfred had vegetable soup ready, hot and savory, and crusty garlic bread. They took their seats in the dining room.
“Mmm, delicious as always, Alfred. I miss your cooking,” Dick said.“I shall make you a container to bring home with you.”
Bruce smiled. Dick’s enthusiasm was always welcome.Alfred went to the kitchen to get dessert and Dick asked, “Are you doing all right, Bruce?”
“Some days are better than others.” Bruce sipped his tea. “How are you?”
“Pretty good. Always on the go, you know me.”
“Don’t take on too much.”
“I’ve got the girls helping me.”
“I doubt it’s just ‘help’,” Bruce said dryly.
Dick laughed. “Oh, yeah, they’d kick my butt if they heard me.”
“The Titans aren’t suffering from your added responsibilities?”
“Not that I can see, but if I feel too overwhelmed, I’ll pass along leadership to someone else. I think Donna or Vic might be the best choices.”
“Will Roy be returning to the Titans?”
“He wants to.” Dick’s tone was wistful.Bruce sipped his tea. At one point he thought that Barbara might be Dick’s romantic focus, but she had been a teenage boy’s crush, nothing more.
Dick had enjoyed a brief romance with Kory, but she had wanted different things from the relationship, not all by choice. As a Princess of Tamaran, there were protocols for her to follow.
Roy had always been there, as friend and colleague, and Bruce was certain that Dick had more than platonic feelings for the redheaded archer.
Just like I did for Clark. That turned out happy, at least for awhile.
“You know that you can always talk to me or Alfred?”
“Yeah, I know.” Affection was clear in Dick’s voice. “That goes both ways, you know.”
Bruce smiled. “I know.”
Dick stayed for the rest of the day, and Bruce and Alfred insisted that he stay if he could get Gotham covered. He happily accepted.
"A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT…"
And waves bash
The lonely shore,
‘Tis time to huddle
And maybe cuddle,
To wait out the storm."
Once Dick got his patrol covered by Barbara, he happily stayed for the night.
A storm blew up over the horizon, dark clouds approaching and wind whipping the waves.
“Glad I’m not on the ferry going back to the mainland right now in this weather,” Dick said as a gust of wind rattled the windowpanes.
“Quite so,” Alfred agreed. “I have set out candles and matches on the hall table.”
“That’s great, Alfred. Thanks.” The lights flickered. “We might need them before the night’s over.”
“You may be right.”
“Don’t worry, Dick, you can survive in the dark. I taught you how, didn’t I?” Bruce asked.
“Yes, you did.” Dick walked over to the bay window. “The sea really is choppy.”
“I know. Winds like this always make it wild.”
“I love how wild and restless it looks.” Dick put a hand on the window.
“Roy will welcome you on that trip to get his daughter, you know.”
Dick smiled. “You always know what’s bothering me.”
“I think I know you pretty well.”
Dick looked at his mentor, seeing how relaxed he appeared.
He still misses Clark like we all do, but something’s changed him. Happily, for the better.
He sat down on the couch, stretching out as he put his interlaced fingers behind his head. The fire crackled and popped in the fireplace, the light flickering over the room, creating eerie shadows on the walls that danced and moved hypnotically.
Some time later, Alfred walked into the room. “Is he asleep?” Bruce asked.
“Quite so, sir.”
“Good.” Bruce smiled. “He needs the rest.”
Alfred carefully draped a thick blanket over the sleeping young man. “I agree.” He walked over to the window. “My goodness, it really is whipping up out there.”
“No boats are out there, I hope?”
“No, no one is that foolish.”
“Good.”The lights flickered again. “I put candles and matches in Master Dick’s room. I do believe we may have a power outage soon.”
“We’ll have to look into a generator.”
“Yes, sir. It will be an inconvenience to be without power for any length of time.”
“We’ll survive if the power goes out, though.”
“Most definitely.”Bruce yawned. “Time for bed, I think.”
The two men left their sleeping charge as they exited the library.
Dick awoke, the clap of thunder growling as the storm raged. He yawned and stretched, realizing that he was still in the library. He sat up and rubbed his face. Getting to his feet, he wandered over to the window, stretching again.
Lighting flashed and Dick saw a figure on the beach. Startled, he strained to look again as darkness returned, dropping like a stage curtain over the sand. Another flash showed an empty beach. Frowning, Dick ran to the foyer, grabbed a slicker from the closet, and hurried outside.
The figure had been big, hunched over as if in pain, and Dick wondered if he needed help. Fighting against the driving rain, he forged ahead to the beach.
Trying to see through the fury of the storm, he looked up-and-down the beach but saw nothing.
Maybe it was a trick of the light or I was still half-asleep.
He turned back to return to the cottage, a sudden tingle skittering down his spine. Shivering, he whirled around but saw nothing but crashing waves and jagged lightning as thunder cracked across the sky.
Must be the electricity of the storm.
He hurried back to the cottage, going in through the kitchen door and hanging his slicker to dry in the tiny mudroom. He went into the kitchen and swore softly when no light spilled out when he turned on the switch. The power had gone out.
With the stealth of the Bat-trained, he made his way out to the foyer and found the candle in its pewter holder and the book of matches next to it on the hall table. Feeling like he should have a nightshirt and long stocking cap on as if he was appearing in The Night Before Christmas, Dick lit the candle and the light flickered eerily on the walls.
He walked up the stairs to the second floor, noticing that the doors to Alfred and Bruce’s bedrooms were closed. He went into his room and quickly undressed, shivering as the house was cold without heat. Searching the closet, he took down a second quilt and laid it out on the bed on top of the quilt already spread out. It might be April, but it was darned cold at night here on the island.
After a quick brushing of teeth, he climbed into bed and pulled the quilts up over him. Luckily he had brought pajamas with him. He did not fancy sleeping nude tonight. He pulled the covers up to his chin and turned onto his side, his back to the window.
He did not see the hulking figure hovering outside.
Like a ribbon in the breeze,
As they respond to the tease.
The next day was a gorgeous morning as it usually is after a storm. Breakfast was a jovial affair in the kitchen, Bruce asking Dick, “Did you sleep well?”
“Once I got upstairs.” Dick’s voice was casual as he asked, “Does someone else live on this island?”
Alfred answered, “Not that we know of.” He poured more tea for Bruce. “Why?”
“I thought I saw someone on the beach last night.”
“Rather dicey in the storm.” Alfred put the rose-sprigged teapot down.
“You’re not kidding.”
“Perhaps you were half-asleep?”
“That could be it. I went outside to check but didn’t see anyone.”
“There, you see?”
“I still would keep an eye out. You two are alone out here.”
“We appreciate your concern, Master Dick, but I believe Master Bruce and I can take care of ourselves.”
Dick laughed. “I guess you’re right. Still, be careful.
”We will,” Bruce assured him.
After Dick had left on the ferry, Bruce immediately went out to the beach. He started to grow nervous when Joe did not show up right away, but then he heard the familiar shuffling.
Bruce wondered about a romance that was so cut off from his family, but he resolutely pushed those thoughts aside and instead walked down the beach with Joe beside him.
This was all he needed right now.
Dick plunged back into work when he reached the mainland. He had a conference to attend in Metropolis, so he would probably patrol with Linda tonight.
He headed directly for Metropolis, arriving in time for lunch. Walking down the bright glass-fronted streets, he felt at home. He would always love gloomy, gargoyled Gotham, but Metropolis brightness had always attracted him.
He wondered if Linda was doing a quick fly-over, but he saw no sign of her. He checked his watch and was about to choose a restaurant for lunch when an alarm sounded in the next block. He hurried to see what was the cause and nearly froze in shock when he saw the blue-clad figures.
It’s the gang that blinded Bruce!
After three years, they had re-surfaced. Anger roiled up in him, leaving him cold. He ducked into an alley and changed into his Robin costume. Taking out his Bat-rope, he ran forward, yellow cape fluttering in the breeze.
The leader stood in a very familiar stance, and Robin flung out his rope. At the last minute, the thief sidestepped the lasso and turned, a familiar-looking weapon in his hand.
Robin ducked as the bright light arced out, the flash lighting up the entire street. Somewhere a woman screamed, and Robin disappeared into another alley. His lenses were snapped on, but that light could penetrate them.
He took out his grapple gun and shot a line up to the roof, observing from the heights as the other thieves ran out of the jewelry store.
Robin was about to attack again when a whoosh! of air heralded the arrival of Supergirl. Smiling, Robin watched as she grabbed the weapon from the gang leader. He swooped down to take care of the other robbers.
“Hey, Robin, good to see you,” said Supergirl, ready to crush the weapon.
“Don’t crumple it, Supergirl!” At her quizzical look he explained, “That’s the gun that blinded Batman!”
Her blue eyes widened and she immediately refrained from crushing it.
“Batman doesn’t look blinded to me,” sneered the leader. “I’ve seen him in action for the last three years.”
“Gotta love that JLA know-how,” quipped Robin. It was better if the criminals thought that Batman had been cured of his disability and no substitute was wearing the cowl. It helped keep the mystique and made his job easier. “Let’s truss these creeps up. I’ve got a lot of questions for them.”
Robin waited patiently in the Watchtower atrium, enjoying the view of Earth and the stars as seen through the glass windows. He held the weapon in his hands, cradling it as if it was fine glass.
“Robin, you have the weapon.” J’onn strode toward the Teen Wonder. Wonder Woman was right behind him.
“I do.” He held it out.
“Very good. Perhaps now we can unlock the mystery of Bruce’s blindness.” J’onn took the gun.
“You haven’t told Bruce yet?” asked Wonder Woman.
Robin shook his head. “No. If nothing comes of this, I don’t want to get his hopes up only to dash them.”
“Good idea.” Wonder Woman smiled slightly. “You’re doing a great job as Batman, but if Bruce can be cured…”
“Believe me, I’d be happy to hand the cowl back.”
The Amazon smiled. “Good. You are a generous soul, Dick.”
Robin beamed. “Thanks, Diana.”
“Let us begin the tests.” J’onn headed for the lab, followed by Wonder Woman and Robin.
“Did the thieves say where they obtained this weapon?” asked J’onn.
Robin shook his head. “They won’t talk.”
“Hmm.” The Martian Manhunter was methodically dissembling the weapon and scanning it into the computer.Robin felt hope and excitement surge up within him. Could studying this alien weapon lead to a cure? He could only hope.
Hours later, they had their answer.J’onn looked at Robin and Wonder Woman. “There is a chance.”
Robin’s smile lit up the entire lab.
Bruce was feeling restless this afternoon. He sat in his comfortable chair in the living room, listening to the sound of the sea outside his window. Maybe his healing here had completed, because the peace of this place had soothed a grieving heart.
But if I go back to Gotham, what about Joe?
He was not ready to leave just yet. He closed his eyes to rest when Dick’s voice asked softly, “Bruce?”
“Back so soon? Hello, Diana.”
Her amused voice asked, “What gave me away?”
“Your perfume. You favor jasmine.”
“I do. Still a detective, I see.”
Bruce smiled. “So, what brings you two here?”
“We have news, Bruce.”
Dick’s voice vibrated with excitement.
“We might have a way to restore your sight.”
Shining, like beams
From the sun.
Or silver ribbons
From the moon.
Bruce waited patiently for Joe. He smiled at the fisherman’s approach.
“’Mornin’.” Joe’s voice was particularly raspy today.
“I have something to tell you.” Joe said nothing, so Bruce continued, “I have to leave for a few days.”
“Today, after lunch.”
They started walking, enjoying the fishing, and when it was time to leave, Bruce reached out and grabbed Joe’s shirt, pulling him close and kissing him. Joe stiffened in his grasp but kissed him back.
When they parted, Bruce promised, “I’ll be back.”
J’onn carefully explained the operation to Bruce in the Watchtower infirmary. “With this nullifier, I should be able to clear away the obstruction.”
“But I thought my retinas were fried.”
“It appeared so. Instead, a webbing of such delicacy and thinness wrapped itself around your rods and cones that even our machines could not detect it.”
“How could you detect it now?”
“The gun itself registered the obstruction.”
“So you think I’ll see again?”
“You may.” J’onn’s voice was gentle. “Your nerves may still have been damaged.”
Bruce felt his stomach clench. “Okay, let’s do this.”
“Very well. Diana will assist me.”
“I’ll be right here, too, Bruce,” said Dick, squeezing his mentor’s hand.
“I’m counting on it.”
Bruce impatiently waited for the bandages to come off as he sat on the infirmary bed. “It’s been forty-eight hours, J’onn.”
“Yes. Are you ready?”
“As I’ll ever be.” Bruce held out his hand and Dick took it. He smiled as the scent of jasmine tickled his nose. Diana took his other hand.J’onn slowly began to unwind the bandages. Bruce waited in the darkness, listening to the soft rasp of the gauze as it was unrolled. Finally, the last of it was off.
J’onn said, “Open your eyes, Bruce.”
The waves pounded on the shore, creeping up the sand as the tide rolled in, crackling as they went out again. The solitary figure on the beach was turned toward the waves, his hands in his coat pockets. The morning was cool, the salt air tangy. He waited, and when he heard the familiar shuffling footsteps behind him, turned with a big smile on his face.
Joy turned to shock, his limbs going numb.
The shuffling figure was misshapen, a hump twisting his body painfully. Both hands were gnarled, and his dark hair was shaggy and unkempt. He walked as if it was painful, his legs bent at odd angles. It was the face that sent tremors through Bruce.
The face was hideously twisted and scarred, bone showing through scarred flesh, one eye sunken into its socket, the other looking larger in comparison. The blue of the iris was clouded.
“You can see.”
Bruce nodded numbly. Joe’s face was too damaged to read, but the misshapen hands curled into fists. The fisherman turned to leave.
“No, wait!” Bruce grabbed an arm, which was all muscle. The rags that Joe was wearing hid a multitude of scars and muscle, Bruce suspected. “Don’t go!”
“You want me around?” rasped the voice that Bruce had come to know so well.
“Yes.”Joe turned. “Prove it.” At Bruce’s puzzlement, he growled, “Kiss me with your eyes open.”
Bruce swallowed. “All right.”
Joe shuffled closer, grasping Bruce’s wrists. He bent down to kiss him, the billionaire’s heart pounding and his palms sweating. The hideous face came closer and closer, and just before their lips met, Joe tossed Bruce away, the other man landing in the sand hard.
“It’s no use. You can barely stand to look at me. It’s no use!”
Joe staggered over to a set of rocks and pounded away, chips of stone flying as the scarred man howled his pain.
“I’ll never be anything but a freak!”
He turned to Bruce, tears glistening in his eyes, then he launched himself into the air to Bruce’s astonishment.
The way he’s flying looks so familiar. The shade of blue in his eyes, his invulnerability…
The revelation hit him like the waves crashing against the rocks.
“Clark!” he screamed, but the hulking man had disappeared high in the sky.
"FOR BETTER OR WORSE"
Like the endless sea
Or the mountains high,
I will never leave you,
I will never say goodbye.
“Bruce, are you sure?” asked an astonished Dick.
“Of course I am!”Dick had come from the cottage at the sounds of the agonized howling. Alfred was right behind him.
“How could Clark be so disfigured?” Dick asked.
“I don’t know, but it had to do with that explosion.” Bruce was agitated as he stared up at the sky.
“I’ll call Linda and see if she can track him down.”
“You and I are going to the Fortress.”
“You think he might be there?”
“Possibly, but an any case, the A.I. owes us an explanation.”
Dick nodded as he flipped open his cellphone.
On the way to the Arctic, Batman told Robin about his secret romance.
“I just thought he was one of those fiercely-independent Maine fishermen. I never dreamed it was because he was disfigured as the reason why he was shy.”
“You never had an inkling?” Robin asked as he piloted the Batplane.
Batman sat behind him.It was strange to see Bruce in the cowl again, but Dick had no regrets. The cowl had never felt quite like his, except as Bruce’s logical successor. He preferred working as Robin.
“None.” Batman sighed. “I guess I was just too wrapped up in grief and the start of something new to be analytical.”
The plane landed in the Arctic snows, Batman and Robin trekking to the entrance. Robin spoke his code and the door slid open, allowing them access.
Inside the crystalline structure, their boots echoed eerily as they walked. Despite three years of blindness, Batman unerringly headed for the A.I.’s control center.The A.I. was as quiet and efficient as always, the hum of its circuits nearly silent as the crystals did the work. Batman took the chair in front of it and said, “A.I., do you know where Kal-El is?”
Robin raised an eyebrow.
“Have you known where he is for the past three Earth years?”
Robin bit back his frustration. There was no use screaming at the computer. All it would get him was a sore throat.
"A.I., why didn’t you tell us?" Batman asked calmly, but Robin could see the tension in his arm as he flexed his hand.
“Kal-El ordered me not to divulge the information.”
Batman blew out his breath as Robin shook his head.
“A.I., what was Kal-El’s state of mind?”
“That makes sense.” Robin stood close behind the chair, putting a hand on Batman’s shoulder. “Clark must have been in severe shock.”
“I don’t understand how he survived the explosion and ended up disfigured instead. That is not Green Kryptonite’s affects, unless it is a new variant.” Batman frowned. “A.I., what were the properties of the Green Kryptonite in the Brazilian freighter Sea Breeze?”
“The properties of Green Kryptonite aboard the Brazilian freighter Sea Breeze remained unchanged from previous samples.”
Batman sighed as Robin frowned. Suddenly the younger man snapped his fingers and asked, “A.I., were there other forms of Kryptonite on that freighter?”
Batman leaned forward eagerly.
“There was Red Kryptonite on the freighter.”
“Bingo!” Robin pumped his fist.
“Good question, Robin.” Batman leaned back. “That’s our answer.”
Robin came to the side of the chair. “The Red K saved Clark’s life.”“And ruined it.” Batman curled one hand into a fist. “A.I., open a channel to the Watchtower.”
“Channel J open.”
“J’onn, Batman here.”
“Have you heard about Superman?”
“Yes, Batgirl contacted me.”
“Red Kryptonite was mixed in with the Green K on the freighter.”
Silence, then, “I see.”
“Red K affects Clark’s mind.”
“That is correct.”
“So his paranoia and secretiveness could be irrational responses because of the Red Kryptonite.”
“It could be.”
“We’ve got to find him.”
Linda searched the world for her cousin, but found nothing. She went into space while J’onn did a telepathic search. The A.I. had been forbidden by its Master to search for his location, so it was useless in the hunt.
“Whatever happened to his mind, it’s blocking me.” The Martian frowned. Batman and Robin had traveled to the Watchtower, anxious for more information.
“Keep at it,” Batman said.
The Martian Manhunter nodded.
The search was fruitless, Bruce despairing of ever seeing his husband again. His heart ached as he thought of Clark’s pain. His beautiful Clark was now disfigured and possibly in physical pain. His voice had sounded as if it was painful to speak. And his mental state might be even worse.
Clark, where are you?
The rain was steady, more Gotham than Metropolis, but somehow fitting for a cemetery. Bruce trod over wet leaves and grass, his face shadowed. No one was in the cemetery, which suited him just fine.
He walked toward the grave, the letters spelling out SUPERMAN bold and deep. It was his first time seeing it, and he was impressed by the elegant simplicity of the rose stone.
He stood in front of the headstone, wondering if it truly was the death of Superman. Would Clark ever be able to resume his career as the Man of Steel? Was he wounded too severely physically and mentally?
I just want you back, Clark.
The rain washed dirt off the stone, pooling in the front, watering the multitude of flowers left by grateful citizens.
“I’m not him anymore.”
Bruce’ heart leaped as he heard the raspy voice. Slowly he turned to see the hulking figure in the shadows of a large maple tree.“I know.”
“I can’t even look at myself in the mirror.”
Anger vibrated in Clark’s voice. “You could barely kiss me!”
“I was surprised.” Bruce took a step forward. “You have to understand that I was shocked.”
“I want you with me.” Bruce held out his hand.
“I might never be what your remember.” Sorrow suffused his cracking voice.
“What if there’s no way to fix me?”
“I’ll still love you, for better or worse.”
Clark came out of the shadows, tears glistening on scarred cheeks. He sobbed as Bruce gently drew him into an embrace, emotions washing over them like waves upon the shore.