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Another life

by Te

Another life
by Te
November 29, 2003

Disclaimers: Not at all mine.

Spoilers: For "Savage Time."

Summary: Bruce was, Batman is.

Ratings Note: R.

Author's Note: Happy birthday, Sarah! I. Uh. Don't think this was actually what you wanted. *Sarah-specific warning warning warning*

Acknowledgments: To Livia for helping me talk this out in my head, and giving helpful suggestions. To Bas for putting ideas in my head. To Molly for audiencing.

Feedback: Always. teland@teland.com

*

All cities are the same underground.

Batman tells himself this at least once a day, in the hopes of believing it.

Thinking logically, it's really not so far-fetched. Every modern American city has some form of subway system, every one of those systems, under Savage, is either locked down or utterly destroyed.

There is no objective difference -- since even the ones pounded to rubble are useable in their own ways.

Tunnels to be cleared, stations flat enough and stable enough for the soldiers to bed down.

But Metropolis is not Gotham.

One day, he'd like to forget that.

Just to see what it was like.

*

Once upon a time there was a boy with a mommy and a Father and a kindly old butler named Alfred.

And then there wasn't.

*

The nightly patrols aren't really necessary. The soldiers know their jobs, and there were any number of vicious and bloody examples of what happened when those jobs weren't done long before Batman took over.

Still.

He's been on the wrong end of a police raid exactly once, and he will never, ever repeat the experience, if he can help it at all.

He remembers Harvey face, perfect and smooth, muscles pulled into something like a smile by the force of the shot that had left the right side.

There'd been no right side.

He remembers having to run until the blood had dried on his clothes, his skin.

Until it started to flake away.

Everyone here has a memory like that, or several.

The sentries nod to him as he passes, and Batman nods back.

*

Once upon a time mommy and Father sit him down in the Study. Mommy stands behind him, and a little to the left.

Bruce feels her as warmth on his back, as a scent of something that he doesn't know, yet, is perfume and not just mommy.

"Bruce," Father says, "you must always remember that power does not equal freedom, at least in the way it's most often used in this world."

Mommy's hand is in his hair, moving in slow, even strokes. "Pay attention."

*

The Gotham subway had been lined in tile. Not quite a different color for every station -- it was too old for that sort of organization -- but still. Something.

A kind of character, perhaps.

Metropolis is a new city, and even underground it shows.

Smooth walls and smooth faces.

Savage has a habit of applying a certain architectural style everywhere he goes, a kind of sleek, fascist grandeur that Batman suspects he'd rather approve of, if things were different.

He hates his tendency to think those words: 'if things were different.'

The children almost never do.

Some of the children are nearly thirty.

*

Once upon a time there's a party that spills from the Study to the Library to the Ballroom and beyond, into every Room and even a few of the rooms.

In the rooms, men smoke until there's a grey, thick haze and talk in low, serious voices, and give Bruce pointed Looks.

In the Rooms, women laugh and drink until the laughs crack and slur into their own kind of haze.

"No, the boy needs to hear this," Father says.

"Do tell," mommy says, scratching rounded little nails against the back of his neck until Bruce doesn't know if he's sleepy or wants to run.

*

In every city, every underground, Lex has his own place.

It's less a matter of Lex's personality and needs than of everyone else's.

This is not a community where people come together out of shared hobbies, and this is not a war where any potential soldier can be turned away. And yet, it is a movement that demands compromise and peace within itself, and it's often Batman's job to ensure it, by as fair a means as he can devise.

Sometimes, he finds this deeply amusing.

Not when he's watching Lex, though.

He's a big man, a strong man, one at first glance more suited to the front lines and casual camaraderie of the ones who often don't always get to come back than to anything else.

And yet he is also a scientist.

This lab is his favorite, perhaps because he was born and bred in Metropolis, or perhaps just out of some personal quirk of his own.

He has many quirks.

Lex moves the way thin, nervous men do, constantly and... not so much jerkily as randomly.

"Perhaps I just haven't grown accustomed to the particular privation of denied sleep," he'd said when Batman had asked, voice a low and syrup-smooth invitation to join a joke.

"You're free to sleep whenever you need to."

"Let me tell you about free..."

Lex lectures like Bruce imagines professors do in the universities that remain open, passionate and endless, and without the slightest belief that a student might actually understand the basics before getting into their classroom.

It's one of the reasons why Batman keeps him apart.

Today, he is muttering a near-comprehensible argument about physics.

Batman isn't sure who's supposed to be on which side, Lex or... Lex.

*

Once upon a time, there's a Bruce who doesn't have a mommy or a Father, but still has an Alfred.

"I'm sorry, Master Bruce, but we really must leave."

And the words are right, but the voice is all wrong. Not shaky or hurting or remembering the people, the parents on the floor of the Foyer, with the blood surrounding their heads and chests.

Just different.

Stark and cold like the metal in the kitchens.

"There are places where we can go, before... well. There's really no point in sparing you anything at all, is there?"

"I don't know," he says, and tells Alfred which teddy bear he wants to take, and then lets Alfred pick the clothes.

He's a big boy, but Alfred is just better at some things.

"A good butler is an asset beyond price," he says, trying on Father's voice like a cloak.

"Indeed."

*

Dick is leading tonight's raid on one of the state-run grocery stores, Barbara at his side. They both prefer to be called by their given names, in a way that's entirely unlike the rest of their age group.

Sometimes they make him wonder if he should be Bruce, but not when they're together, and they usually are.

He likes to watch them. The way they smile at each other, the way Dick eyes the length of his own hair with curious amusement before turning to Barbara with a smile Batman suspects is meant to be private.

Such distinctions are difficult, the way they live, but some of the soldiers hold to them all the more strictly because of that.

Barbara never turns to face Dick when he's giving her one of the secret looks, though she is one of the most naturally aware people Batman has ever met.

Mercy never makes eye contact with anyone when she strips down after a raid, or before sleep.

The youngest children have no such compunctions, but Batman thinks some of them will grow into it, whether they manage to make a difference and move aboveground, or not.

He thinks this denotes a form of success, if only in the personal sense.

The team returns with duffels full of canned and dry goods, and almost entirely whole.

Sketchy limps in next to last, the smell of burnt flesh hovering around him.

Most of them don't miss fresh meat.

"They put in laser trip-wires by the pharmacy, Batman. I was on point and didn't see it."

It's an apology.

Dick slaps the man on the shoulder. "Hey, you still have your foot, Kyle. You saw it enough."

Batman just nods.

One day, Dick's going to lead his own cell. He'll be good at it.

*

Once upon a time there's a boy who lives in a Cave. He understands that it isn't very far from the place that had been his house when he had parents, and that when the other people who live in the Cave say 'Bruce,' they mean him, but things like that aren't really important.

Staying warm is important. And eating enough of the food so that his belly doesn't hurt.

And keeping an eye on Alfred.

Because Alfred is really hard to see these days. He doesn't wear suits anymore, or even the ties that the boy used to think were attached to his shirts with glue, or something classy and adult that worked like glue, only better and less messy.

Alfred wears dark, warm things that blend him into the shadows, and speaks in a quiet, hard voice to the men and women who gather here.

The boy doesn't know any of them.

Sometimes one or another of them will stop what they're doing and touch his face and crouch in front of him and say things like:

"I never thought it would be like this."

And, "oh, honey."

And, "you poor thing."

There are bats, though.

They never say anything at all.

*

It's always Lex who starts things, when they do start.

This isn't out of the ordinary for Batman.

It isn't that he doesn't want, doesn't hunger -- and oh, sometimes he looks at the children, and the soldiers, and wonders what it would be like to be someone other than himself -- it's just that it all seems like a great deal of unnecessary work, when there is always more than enough necessary work to do.

This business of pretending you haven't already gotten to know a person from watching the way they fight, sleep, eat, and move just so they can tell you, in their own time, what they think you should know. It's amusing, even warming to watch when the others do it, but none of it feels like him.

The people who make the first move are the ones who tend not to hold with that, or who have decided not to for a little while.

It's easier to wait.

"You never ask why," Lex muses against his throat.

"You have your reasons."

"Mm," he says, non-committally, and seeks out the hidden catches of Batman's armor. "And you have yours."

Lex has never asked him to take off the visor, unless the cybernetic eye requires maintenance.

*

Once upon a time Alfred doesn't come back.

No one comes back but a woman he hadn't thought of as 'old' until just now. It's something in her eyes.

"We fucked up," she says, and everyone who's left slumps and turns into themselves and fails to say anything.

It's the stupidest thing he's ever seen in his life, and there is no room for stupid in a world with bloody Foyers and cold, stinking Caves.

"Tell me," he says.

And then he makes her tell it again, and again.

After a while, the woman is still old but awake again, and the boy has planned the raid a dozen, a hundred times.

Most of the time, Alfred gets to come back.

The boy makes a decision.

*

Tim and Cassie haven't chosen code-names, yet. Barbara found them in the remains of their respective homes on one of her periodic tours.

They've been with them for three years and nineteen months, respectively.

They spend a lot of time playing, when not in training.

Today, they're sitting behind a pile of weapons in need of repair.

"... okay, so I heard he doesn't have eyes at all."

Tim nods fervently. "The others all do, but they wear the same kind of visor because it's a uniform."

"I bet his visor has, like, computer-generated imagery that gets beamed directly into his brain." Cassie wraps her arms around her knees and tilts her head thoughtfully.

"Yeah, Lex can do that. I bet we're all going to get fitted for cyborg stuff eventually."

"Cool. But..."

"Yeah?"

"What's with the pointy little ears?"

Batman steps out of the shadows. "It's a designation of rank."

The children look at him with wide, serious eyes.

And then laugh.

*

Once upon a time he puts on a mask.

One day, a bullet breaks both it and the important parts of his right eye.

He builds a better one.

end.


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