I can't thank you enough for taking the time to look at this story. I really appreciate it, and I hope you enjoy it, even just a little bit. That said, I have three more comments:
1- Feedback makes me a happy little slasher.
2-moonspinner, please don't kill me. I'll be good. *halo*
3. Endless thanks to the amazing, wonderful and just plain spiffy likethesun2, who helps me keep the difference between 'lie' and 'lay' clear. 'Cause I'm challenged like that. ^_~ *toasts Leigh* Finest kind, doll.
"[T]he taste of blood
in a kiss,
someone whispering in someone's ear,
someone crying behind a door,
a clock dead at noon."
-"Furious Versions", by Li-Young Lee
Voices Carry 1/1
by Meredith Bronwen Mallory
Who's telling this story?
Someone. Someone who knows the truth.
Insubstantial, as such people are. The press of a body against a cool wall; a whisper passing through a crack in the stone. Secrets have a way of accumulating, as you well know. They breed other secrets-- lesser indiscretions, horrible truths. It's habit-forming, reflexive. We all move differently when we think no one's looking.
Oh, and we've had time. Wayne Manor has stood, silent and watchful, for a solid three centuries, and it will stand for many more. It will thrust its bulwark against the skies in days coming, in a time when its name has lost meaning, when Batman is a legend like the old gods who walked the earth. It will stand under changed stars-- its great east windows, dulled, will face a poisonous red dawn. We believe that. This house was built on the faith that it would stand-- generations adding, repairing. Polishing, refining, but also painting over, bricking up the hushed voices in the walls.
We've had time-- time to gather and time to tend. There is much more here, in the stir of still air and the endless halls, than merely those things you guard. More than the wires and monitors, the armor safely tucked beneath the house's foundations. Yours is not the first heart to be broken here, nor will it be the last.
The trick, you see, is the the mending. If it's possible at all.
And here you are. Down another endless hall, in another one of hundreds of rooms. Silent and undisturbed, cleaned monthly by a troop of hired hands as Alfred follows behind them, ensuring everything is replaced just so. If you've been in here before, you can't remember. Deep blue curtains pulled closed over the tall windows, ornate furniture gleaming a dim painted gold in the gloom. A narrow, virginal bed, comforter tucked back a little at the corner, as if waiting for someone. For whom, you think moodily-- this place is a fortress for a man who has no need of one. Bruce Wayne requires no battlements to protect him. His body is a citadel, and you cannot reach his heart.
Our last scion. Gotham's favored son. A knight in an age full of bandits, this one, and we have breathed his sorrow for a good, long while. You sit on the bed, because even in this far, unused room, you feel him here. He stretches through the house as a soul stretches through a body, and you have never felt alone.
Even when you wanted to be.
In so many ways, this place is more a museum than a home. It has that quality of remoteness, of guarded splendor, but also an air of waiting that you have never quite felt able to explain. When you first came here, dressed in your best shirt and trousers that still smelt of hay and midway smoke-- well, you were afraid to touch anything. Even your room, which Alfred said once belonged to 'Master Bruce', was so like an exhibit that you feared the slightest jarring movement. You spent a lot of time at that wide window, facing outwards towards the drive. The drive and the gates, the mounting wrought iron, closed like hands clasped over a still, dead chest. And yet, they too seemed watchful, for some arrival against which they would not need to guard.
Strange, how no one uses the front gate anymore.
You moved like another small shadow amongst the high vaulted ceilings, those first few months, voice hushed. Could you play, could you run? You didn't know the rules, you had no frame of reference. The lights and noise, the press of people and animals and gaudy costume you called home had vanished sharply, as if waking suddenly from a dream. It was Alfred who moved you down the hall, closer to Bruce's room, but also into one that could be your own. No one remained whose memory could attach a name to those four walls, and you finally felt free to wiggle, to tangle the bedsheets and tape pictures to the walls. To slip small feet against the cool wooden floor, just two doors down, to the master bedroom. On nights when Gotham's cool autumns and restless winters lashed the house with hail and snow, you'd make your way to Bruce's room. Sometimes your own shadows pursued you, flashes of virulent color behind your eyes, where you lost the one treasure you had left; nightmares you where you lost him, too. You'd stand, still as stone, at the foot of his bed. There was no way to avoid waking him, and you'd later learn why, but at the time you were unsettled by the way even his breathing made no noise.
'Bad dream?' he'd ask, and his voice would be light. But oh, you knew what flickered underneath it, because you knew he was visited too. By that terrible, scrabbling insect, body unforgiving steel, whose talons pierced the brain with the smell of blood and gunshots, the sound of pearls clattering on cement.
You might tell him, or you might not. As you slipped beneath the covers in that wide, wide bed, it mattered not so much what terror you'd swallowed. It mattered more that he smoothed your hair, tucked you in and lay within arm's reach, as if all was well with the world. In the darkness, you though his outline like that of Souji the white tiger, powerful and requiring care. The first time Souji-- under the trainer's supervision-- sniffed your offered hand and let you pet his ears, your heart swelled. You felt safe, lying in that big bed.
Bruce trusted you enough to fall asleep.
Sundown, now. There is only the barest edging of gold along the horizon, turning the grove outside the window, and the city beyond it, into shadowy sketches of ink. The chill of autumn seems to slither up against the window panes, makes you think-- only for a moment-- of the fire that is undoubtedly roaring in the great room's hearth right now. Barbara is down there, working her angular hand against some forms she's brought over from the attorney's office. On the sofa, Tim is giving a good impression of being immersed in his video game-- though his body is sprawled and his eyes are on the screen, his attention is focused elsewhere. Like a dowsing rod, this boy, in a way you can't help but envy a little. Tim is a more serious, less charming Boy Wonder, but he is also bit more intuitive. He reads others, the lines of their body, the set of their jaw, and calculates his behaviors based on those. The honesty of childhood drained from him long ago, so much so that you can't help but wonder what he's really like, under there. That Bruce is guarded is obvious much of the time, though what he guards few would guess. Tim-- oh, Tim, is a true chameleon, and you think sometimes even he believes his disguise.
Your hands clench in the sheets. We hear you thinking, we know, we know. Why do you have to be the one who wears his heart on his sleeve?
You could go down there, right now. Because both Tim and Barbara are arranged around Bruce, sitting in his chair before the hearth, book in hand. He has his finger on the page, trying to force himself to follow the text. He breathes in and out, regular as clockwork-- his face betrays nothing. But really, he's wondering if you've gone again, if he's managed to drive you away. His knuckles are white; is it for good this time, this parting? His face shows a man absorbed in 18th cenutry literature, but his eyes say he doesn't think he can bear your absence again. Alfred brings coffee-- nods, barely perceivably, to your motorcycle visible out the large window, knowing he has directed his master's attention. If Bruce relaxes at all, it is so minute even we cannot judge.
And here you are, far off in the west wing, in an empty room. A girl's room, you think now, though there is nothing really obvious to suggest so. Just the delicate proportions of the furniture, the faintest scent of stale flowers hanging in the air.
She did love gardenias-- sometimes she wore them in her hair.
You're so tense now, are you thinking about it? Thinking that perhaps you should just go downstairs, push open the heavy oak door with a quip and a laugh, take your place in the circle of your makeshift family? You could do it, you could ruffle Tim's hair and joke about eyestrain, you could ask what Bruce is reading and then make a face. Barbara would smile at you, just as bright as ever, and you would read relief there, behind her eyes. There would be silence, that strange balance of discomfort and familiarity, but eventually Alfred would bring in the antique chess set. You'd move to sit across from Bruce and play, drawing it out, eyeing each other.
He'd beat you, because he always does.
You could do all this, and life would move on, relentless in its current, wearing away at the truth. Eroding it, hiding it in tiny pieces, so that neither you nor he would have to look in the mirror every day and know it as painful and real. You could be Dick Grayson, Bruce Wayne's ward and-- if you let him make it so-- adopted son. But no matter how hazy the mirror or dull the knife, no matter what comes to obscure the facts, you'll still both know:
You're in love with him.
And he's in love with you.
Oh, we do not count that among our secrets, though it is not something the world itself knows. It is a thing of twilight, this visceral affection-- part in daylight (student, teacher, partner, friend) and part in darkness (lover, dear one, flesh against flesh). For so long, you saw him as a boy does-- awed by his strength, drawn to his shelter. When he told you that was all you felt, that you were 'misinterpreting' (how he emphasized that word!), you felt laughter bubble up inside and feared that if it passed your lips, you would not stop. Because you see so much more of his failings, his humanity now that your heart is moved by love-- much more so than when it was moved by admiration alone. They say that love is blind, and perhaps it is, for some. For others it brings unbearable clarity, a world of shape and color after a life lived in the murky dark. This is by no means a painless love, or one that is always kind, but it is inexorable, shifting under your skin. There's no getting away from it and you knew that-- but it is by no means the driving reason that our master returned one day to find your small, battered suitcase sitting by the door. You passed through our gates for many reasons and, while love was among them, it was not the thing that hovered, black and heavy, at your back like wings. Down the hill and through the streets of the jaundiced city we guard, you disappeared beyond the encampment of Gotham's five hills, and were lost to our sight.
But not to his.
There's a small porcelain box on the dresser, and you fix your eyes on it, if only to distract yourself from that half-pleasant, soul-deep shiver that comes from the thought of his gaze. Fading painted forget-me-nots circle the lid and you lift it carefully. It is only your training, your line of work that keeps you from starting when, after a brief grind, a small tune begins to play. It's familiar, but your mind supplies no name-- just delicate notes, a little out of tune, played protestingly after years of stillness. Inside, there's something that at first appears to be a large medallion-- but no, it's an oval of glass. Two panes sealed together, suspending their contents against time. You hold it up, let the dim light silhouette the two locks of hair-- one deep ebony, the other cherry brown-- entwined with a single blue ribbon. Girls' hair, clearly, long and curling in endless circles, the two colors running together. Lingering, like the final notes of the song, long after their meaning is stale and dead.
Very gently, you put it back, and snap the lid shut.
You know he watched you. There's no proof, of course, and you'd never let the words pass your lips. You've been trained to be logical, analytical, but instinct always has its place. It's instinct that drew clever fingers down your spine, in Shanghai, in Bombay, in Madrid. Not his eyes, of course-- his gaze has always been something you could feel, every bit as heavy and decadent as real velvet. You simply sensed, somehow, that he knew where you were. And he did, if only through words on paper, tiny emotionless type. With the words of your last argument still littering the study floor, he was afraid to do anything more. He made do with vague certainties, when his heart said only details would suffice. A year of this, of stepping over your memories, of seeing your displaced reflection ripple in the mirrors. It was only today, when you stepped over the threshold and he felt as if he was blinking into a bright light, that he realized how deeply he had consigned Bruce Wayne. Like a pilgrim, the Batman faced towards whichever compass point you'd alighted on, always at the end of each night's patrol. A concession, and a large one, if you consider that he woke often, throat wrenching helplessly around your name.
Outside, you hear Babs' car start up. There's a minute or so of idling-- Tim saying goodbye, Alfred plying her with leftovers-- before the sound fades down the hill. For a moment, you almost stand, but there's a weariness in you now. You think there's no such thing as returning-- such a pitiable, flimsy word! As if time and space are a grid on one of Bruce's endless schematics, easy to pinpoint. The ground is still but time moves, we can assure you of that. With a sigh, you lie back on the soft comforter, kicking off your shoes. Here, it seems safe, within Bruce's kingdom, but not too close. No one goes into battle again without first marshaling their will. Now that you're lying down, head against the pillow, the bed's canopy hovers over you like a low cloud. There are stars painted on it, constellations-- here Cassiopeia, here Leo, here Cygnus. Your eyes trace them, this dizzying miniature sky, and you breathe. The past slides over you like someone's ghost.
Rest now, Richard, ward of our great walls. Rest, and we will finish the story, for your sake and our own. It's not enough to know the tale-- it must be told as well.
Close your eyes.
You were fifteen when you looked over at Bruce, brow furrowed over some villain's puzzle, and realized you were in love. The lights of the cave emphasized the lines of his face, that flicker of intense intelligence in his ice blue eyes, and you thought, 'oh, so that's how it is.' You've never understood it, this "falling in love". To you 'fall' implies some miscalculation, a rope or perch missed. You have always flown-- falling requires a passivity you simply do not possess. To you, love was just something that happened, an inevitable progression. It was part of you, in your bones, and like marrow to the heart you wondered if it might slice you through. A strange, gasping sort of pain. Lying here, in this room filled with the familiar heaviness of the lonely, you might think that love could seize that pumping muscle, stop the heart. And you'd be right.
That's not the story, of course-- that's something you know. But his mind, so brilliant and calculating, has always been veiled from you. Like a strange signal from afar, it cuts in and out. You can read his mind in a fight, anticipate his needs and moves, but even you wonder about the cavern around his heart. He has one, diamond-hard, resolute against the world at large. You have cut yourself a place it in, slowly, naturally, like lava working through the earth. As with you, love for Bruce was a slow process, eons of patient change. You were sixteen, though, when he knew.
Ah, and this is the secret, isn't it? The thing Bruce hides so carefully, the scalding pleasure of your presence in his heart. Sixteen, yes, and he cursed himself a fool. Tried to work it out of himself as a splinter is worked out of muscle, but it would have been like losing gallons of blood. Too vital. There was no adrenaline to cushion the blow, no gasping breaths in the aftermath of a fight, no fear pervading his organs as you danced a little too close to the edge. You'd been out testing a new motorcycle, just Dick Grayson with the daredevil grin. On the muddy spring roads, you'd pushed the engine, whooping loudly, and you returned so covered in dirt that Alfred made you hose off outside. Bruce saw you then, drenched and laughing, batting your dark hair away from your eyes. So heavily did he sit down that the study chair creaked, scraping against the floor. His one physical reaction, his one small tell, before he vowed his feelings to the prison of his flesh.
Oh, but the problem with secrets is that they want to move. Sibilant, they coil around the spine, sweet as sin and powerful as steel. They call to each other, betraying in a flickering glance, a lingering touch. By the time you left, you were sure he knew of your feelings, though his own were never easy for you to divine. Was it longing or discomfort that crossed his face so quickly, too quickly to discern? Your own unspoken words were suffocating-- you felt as if each room of the manor was crowded with things you could not (he would not) say.
Do you breathe easier, now that you've been away? You carry your difference with you, a cloak of confidence and a goal achieved. What you learned, what you saw, we cannot tell-- and nor can Bruce, though his eyes were on you all through dinner, as if it would, with enough effort, become clear. It was that gaze that unnerved you, made you edgy until you both had voices raised.
You're sleeping now, or close to it. The sun is down, and Tim has gone to bed, textbook open across his skinny chest. Alfred is in his own rooms, keeping his own counsel, though he laid his hand for a long moment on Bruce's shoulder, and squeezed. The Master himself is in the great western hallway, movements quiet and undisturbed. He's careful in his search for you, careful with the hope that rose unbidden when he realized you had not left. You've both had time to cool off, he thinks, and only the set of his jaw betrays his anxiety. Like the voices of his own sensei's when he fell or was knocked down-- try it again, try it again, try it again. You're the last person in the world he wants to fail.
Here is your little bird, Bruce Wayne, here through the tiniest crack in the door. We have watched over him for you, guarded his sleep. And, ah, Richard, if you were not asleep, you would see that the look on his face is that of a man with his greatest treasure. He sits carefully on the bed, studying you, cataloguing changes as his hand reaches out, unwittingly, to caress your lengthening hair. Now a finger strokes down your cheek, traces your bottom lip, and the pain his longing causes him is something to be savored, too. You're only half asleep now, awake and dreaming-- your lithe hand comes to curl around his own powerful one, equally matched in strength, if not in size.
He says, "You didn't leave."
"I just got back," you murmur, with a bit of your old, playful logic. You kiss his palm, and the hand he's bracing himself on fists hard in the comforter. It will be some time, perhaps, before you realize how you threaten his control. But you are strong and unbowed-- you will linger in his intensity the way a mystic walks through flame.
"I missed you," you both say, and laugh. He cups your cheek, strokes your pulse, eyes recording every shiver. When you reach up to kiss him, he's motionless for some moments. Time stretches and you wait, kiss close-mouthed and chaste, before his hands are around your wrists. Holding you down to the bed even as you arch up, he kisses you, learns you, and his eyes say he will not forget. You move, just a little, and though the bed is narrow he fits alongside you easily, matched hip to hip, his heartbeat hard against your back.
"Bruce--" you say, softly, but his breath is along the shell of your ear. He whispers, words a quiet singular gift-- his tone is full of love, whose twin has lain fermenting in your heart. He tells you his secret.
And we withdraw, to guard our own.
*bats eyes coyly* Feedback? Pretty please?