Sea and Sky:
Gotham Knights #18 absolutely made me *ache.*
So of course I had to adapt it for my own purposes. This is the Sea & Sky universe version. (Quite a bit in the "future" from where the series is at present. Nevertheless...wanted to post this one while the issue in question was still fresh in people's minds.)
(Situation and images by Devin Grayson, copyright DC comics. Interpretation and additional material by 'rith.)
Things look quiet. He contemplates his peaceful city through the monitors, remarking on it--and the slim likelihood of it remaining that way--to the only other occupant of the cave.
The bat hisses at him and folds its wings around itself to sleep. A good suggestion, but he slept two days ago. And there is an incoming call on his monitor from the JLA Watchtower.
It's Aquaman. And he's--polite. They made their peace after the Babel incident, but he and Arthur have clashed since the very beginning. Now Arthur has called...just to chat? He says he's sorry to hear about Jim. He says--
The upstairs phone rings, and he instinctively calls for Alfred. Having forgotten, for the moment, that Alfred is gone. He turns away from the screen, shutting down Arthur's connection. More important things to deal with.
He answers the phone as Wayne. It's one of *them,* the lovely socialites who flutter around Bruce Wayne, hoping to attract his interest. And his wallet. He's tired of dealing with them, another reason why Selina's reappearance into his life was so welcome. After the Atlantean trade reception and Selina's presence on his arm, he'd thought they might decide he was no longer on the market.
No such luck. But he can dissuade this one easily enough. And then he's alone again in his cave, with a sleeping bat and a silent monitor.
Selina has vanished again. He's been searching, and hoping that it isn't because she's planning a crime. More likely she simply felt the need to escape Gotham--escape him?--for a while. "Can't cage a cat, Bruce," she'd told him. She'd be back. Probably.
Nightwing is probably already on patrol in Blüdhaven. Not that he has reason to call Dick tonight. He would if there was a case, something that needed doing, but there isn't. And if he isn't patrolling, he's with Garth. No reason to disturb them without cause.
Oracle answers his call, though she seems distracted. No new information for him, which he'd suspected. But best to make sure. "I'll let you know as soon as I hear anything," she says, which is Barbara for "Let me do my job and quit looking over my shoulder," and hangs up.
He trusts her. He does. But what about--
This time she's obviously been laughing so hard there are tears in her eyes, and she's not at all pleased to see him. "Nope, nothing yet. Anything *else,*" she asks, impatient.
There isn't. And yet--
The third time it's a clearly irritated Dinah who answers the call. "Oracle's done for the night. Give it a rest." In the background now he can hear a television on, very loud, and the sound of Cassandra's laughter.
He's never seen her laugh.
But that doesn't matter. *Gotham* matters. And as he drives through his city, sure enough, it's not as quiet a night as it first appeared. He stops several drug deals, a robbery in progress, an attempted rape. If he hadn't been here, these things would taint his city. He is necessary here. He is needed.
After that the night is silent again, and he waits atop one of his favorite gargoyles, watching his city, until sunrise.
Home again, and he realizes he hasn't eaten in the last 24 hours. It's easy to forget without Alfred here to bring him food as he's working in the cave. But there isn't anything prepared in the fridge, and the thought of actually trying to cook is more exhausting than he cares to contemplate right now.
He paces the manor, and reads, and paces again. Winds up in Dick's old room with its colorful gaudy posters and wonders why Dick hasn't moved these things to his apartment in 'Haven, and suspects he knows.
He needs sleep, and he's hungry, and neither of those things matter.
For no reason that he can fathom, he calls the Watchtower.
Arthur answers, calmly dismissive. "You didn't have to call back. I was done trying to be nice to you."
For a moment he has, quite literally, nothing to say. He doesn't know why he's called. He has no reason to talk to--
"Batman? ... Bruce?"
A reason presents itself. Arthur sounds surprised, then amused, but agrees to teleport down. He appears, and makes a wry comment about being summoned, and asks after "the boys."
For a moment he's seized with an almost-irresistible desire to laugh, but stifles it. Retreats into silence, which Arthur has learned to respect.
And then Arthur goes down in the earthquake-caused crevice and starts working at excavating the two hundred and sixteen pound penny that's lodged there, a souvenir of one of his earliest cases.
Arthur comments on the quiet, and he tells the truth. Dick is in 'Haven, Alfred and Tim are...gone. His computer search for Selina beeps to tell him that she's nowhere to be found, at least not this way.
From below, Arthur says, "You know how you stop noticing things you're used to?"
He doesn't explain the remark. Climbs back up to the cave floor and brushes himself off. Says, when asked about the penny, "It's not going anywhere. But you knew that before you called me."
Which is, after all, true.
High above, the bat unfolds its wings and watches the two of them silently as Arthur waits for an answer. He has none. He can't say, simply, that he was--
Arthur waits another moment, then says, "Bruce, listen--"
He's almost shocked to hear his name.
"--next time, just ask me to pick up some beer and videos on my way over, okay?"
He's become that transparent, then, and it's--humiliating. But Arthur doesn't laugh. Or tease. Merely says wryly, "Now that we're in-laws of a sort, maybe we can even find a way to get along."
And Bruce *laughs.*
It's an odd sound, rusty and thin, and it echoes weirdly through the cave. The bat above takes offense and flies off deeper into the darkness. Arthur watches him, warily, as if he's afraid Bruce has completely lost his mind.
Oh, no. This is as sane as he's ever felt. More, maybe. And he goes with it until Arthur joins him, chuckling. He's starting to regain control when Arthur says, "You know, I warned Garth about surface *girls,* but I never expected--" and he's off again, howling. He's laughing so hard it *hurts* but God, it feels good.
Obviously, as regards their eldest "sons." Foundlings both, taken in and shaped to the image of their mentors. Though Arthur can finally admit that his own guardianship was sorely lacking, and even finds himself envying Bruce for his easier relationship with his ward.
They both have lost sons, as well. His own trueborn son and Bruce's adopted son, murdered by their fathers' enemies. Those deaths haunt them still.
And they are both kings. His own is a true kingship, earned through birth and blood. Bruce's...could be considered the same, in truth. His parents had been of the family that helped build Gotham to the city it is today; and their blood birthed the Batman. His kingdom spans the globe and Bruce's encompasses merely one city, but they both rule supreme. Undersea, Arthur's word is law. The Bat casts his shadow over Gotham and where it falls, none dare defy him. The politicians may believe they hold power, but it's the Bat who allows them to do so.
Accustomed as they both are to being obeyed without question, is it any wonder, then, that they clash so often? Monarchs have little need for diplomacy. He himself depends on Mera and Garth and Vulko to soothe the spirits of those he's offended with harsh truths. Bruce depends on...
Alfred, and his Robins. Who are all gone from this house, now. And Bruce has never had someone like Mera that Arthur knows of to give him solace and wise council. He almost pities the man for that, but he knows Bruce would despise the emotion. As he would in the same place.
He's certain there's some kind of deep irony to be found in the fact that Dick and Garth have found each other. In older times, warring Houses might be united by their children's bonding. If they can find common ground in that, maybe they can find a kind of peace as well. He cannot, will never forget Batman's betrayal of the JLA...nor can he find it in himself to truly forgive. But he can choose to move past it.
And that, Arthur thinks, would be a good thing. A *compassionate* thing. Something a wise king might do.
He isn't known for wisdom. Perhaps it's something he can begin to learn, starting here.
"It's really annoying," Arthur says abruptly, "but ever since Wally joined, the JLA fridge is perpetually empty. And J'onn keeps moving where he hides his Oreos."
"This week it's the trophy room, behind September's probability machine," he answers absently, and almost starts laughing again at the look on Arthur's face.
"Hmph. Anyway. Have you got anything to *eat* around this place?"
"Upstairs." After a moment's hesitation he makes an invitation of it. "Come upstairs."
It's an odd scene. Two costumed members of the Justice League, scrounging through Alfred's immaculate kitchen. Bruce has been living off of take-out since he left, when he remembers to eat at all. They find enough for sandwiches, and by the way Arthur keeps shoving food at him he knows that Arthur wasn't really hungry at all, that this is all for his benefit.
It's guarded concern and nothing less that keeps his teammate here, watching over him carefully and only nibbling at a few bites while Bruce eats, ravenously.
"Get some sleep, Bruce," Arthur says, almost kindly. "I'll see myself out."
It's daylight anyway, and Bruce Wayne has no board meetings today, so he does just that. Goes upstairs while the silence echoes through the big empty house, and collapses onto the bed, and sleeps.
For a mercy, he does not dream.