Too Many Long Boxes!
   
   

End of Summer
 

Friendship

by Yusuf Madhiya

This story takes place a few months after the death of Jason Todd. The confrontation between Superman and Batman as depicted in "A Death in the Family" never occurs.


4:30 A.M. August 3rd. Wayne Manor. Gotham City.

"Nooooooo..." Bruce Wayne, sole heir of WayneCorp, awoke from an infrequent sleep with a violent shout.

"Tuck! Tuck!!"

"Master Bruce, if I'm not interrupting..."

"It's alright Alfred. I've just had a...nightmare."

Alfred didn't seem too sure. It had been quite a few nights (actually early mornings), that his master awoke from his sleep with a look of horror on his face.

"Are you really alright Master Bruce?"

Bruce Wayne sunk his face into his hands and sat there motionless. He looked hurt but didn't want to show it.

"No Alfred. I...I'm not quite alright. Night after night, it's the same dream. The same frustrating madness. At first I thought it might be a residual effect of my encounter with Scarecrow...but I think its something else...."

Alfred understood how painful losing his ward must be for Bruce. Jason's death, made more painful because how he was murdered, had torn Bruce Wayne apart mentally. But Bruce was never one to talk openly about his personal feelings .He considered it a weakness.

Now Alfred was worried that his master was haunted by his inner demons and was on the brink of insanity.

After a pause, Bruce finally decided to let Alfred in on his mental agony. "I see my parents, Alfred. I see them...so...angry."

Bruce closed his eyes but the visions haunts him again. "I see my father.... He tells me that he is ashamed of me not taking care of a child.... He scolds me ...and then there is Jason ...... in a pool of blood...."

"But Master Bruce, surely that's just a bad dream and...."

"I don't know Alfred. It's the same dream again and again. God!" Bruce screamed, as if in pain. "I can't even remember how long these images have been haunting me!"

"Master Bruce, calm down. Please look around you.."

"I couldn't save him Alfred!" said Bruce, still feeling the shock of his nightmare, "I couldn't! I lost my parents when I was young, Dick left me, and now a child who was like my son.... I lost him too....Perhaps I'm cursed. I don't know if I should even go on..."

An uneasy silence fell in the room. Alfred tried to restore his Master's integrity, persuading Bruce to think of all the good he has done as Batman and all the lives he has saved.

"May I suggest that you get up and get ready now, it's almost dawn," urged Alfred, "Perhaps you should engage yourself in.... different activities. Maybe that will help you ease the pain of this tragedy."

Alfred paused, but seeing as how he captured Bruce's attention, prompted him further. " Shall I get something to freshen you up? Something to eat perhaps, when you get ready?"

"Yes, a good suggestion.... Perhaps I should let time heal me. Strangely, Gotham seems quieter now. Hope Gordon is sleeping well...."

"I sure hope so" said Alfred as he left the room.

Bruce Wayne continued to stare helplessly as the images of Jason Todd played havoc in his mind. His whole body screamed an invisible pain.

The past months had been terribly tragic for Bruce. His ward Jason Todd, whom he dreamt of as his son and his successor, was brutally murdered by his old enemy. Ever since, he felt that his whole life lacked a purpose, and his will to fight against injustice was weakening.


9:30 A.M. August 5th. Daily Planet office, Metropolis.

"Great Caesar's ghost!" thundered Perry White, editor of the Daily Planet.

"Is this a news room or a conference hall? Cat, leave Olsen alone and take Mike to cover that drinking and driving case that killed five people last night. Whit, settle the proof reading dispute between Carlini and Ordway. Olsen, cover the Zenith awards tonight, and this time don't goof up. Kent, Lane, into my office. And rest of you, get back to work!"

"Will do, Chief" said Jimmy Olsen, unable to resist teasing Perry.

"...And don't call me CHIEF, Olsen!"

The door to Perry's office slammed shut, and inside his office, he addressed his two star reporters.

"Well, Lois, what happened to your story on Serbia?"

"Whit is doing the final proofing, Perry, and I'm leaving for Afghanistan tonight. Those Talibans are up to something again. I smell something big"

"Yes. But be careful Lois, the Talibans are...."

"...Barbarians and they don't take prisoners. OK Perry, I got that the first ten times you told me."

"OK! OK! I don't need any smart talk around here. What about you Kent? You're going to Gotham City, of all places, tonight, right?"

"Yes Perry. There's been a steady rise in Waynecorp stock, and I've managed to get an appointment with Bruce Wayne himself. Frankly, he probably won't discuss many financial details, but since an interview with him is quite rare, something else may pop up."

"OK then, step on it you two"

After exiting and reaching the front desk, Lois sported a mischievous smile. "Oooo...Gotham City playboy Bruce Wayne himself. What a life he must be having! How I adored him once."

"...And now you adore some one else? So, you think I'm good enough, huh?" Clark teased her.

"You're a swine Kent! A story-snatching swine on top of all. Never forget that."

"Oh! Lois, look I never meant...." said Clark, trying to salvage the situation.

"Skip the whole thing Kent. Actually, compared to our famous flying man in red and blue, Bruce Wayne is, to say the least, not interesting enough."

"If she only knew who Bruce Wayne really is!" Clark thought.


4:00 P.M. August 6th, Wayne Manor, Gotham city.

TRING, TRONG!!

"Yes, sir, may I help you?"

"I'm Clark Kent from the Daily Planet, and I'm here to interview Mr. Wayne as per prior arrangement"

"One moment please, Mr. Kent. Would you be seated while I inquire about the interview, sir?"

"Okay. That will be fine." Clark relaxed in the visitor's room while Alfred went to Bruce's secret chamber to inquire about the interview."

"Master Bruce, did you grant an interview to a reporter from the Daily Planet?" asked Alfred.

"Yes, in fact I did." said Bruce nonchalantly, immediately understanding who was waiting for him, but not wanting to reveal Clark's secret to Alfred. "He must be Clark Kent. I was expecting him."

"He is presently seated in the visitor's room."

"I'll be there in a moment, Alfred."

Bruce prepared to face the complex situation where he desperately wanted to hide his grief, while at the same time feeling guilty for not having told Clark, his most trusted colleague and friend, about the death of his ward. He felt nervous about breaking the news to Clark. He knew how fond Clark was of Jason, and Clark considered Jason a very soothing influence on the otherwise violent life Bruce led.

"But sir, is it wise giving an interview to an investigative reporter, given your present state of mind?" worried Alfred, noting his master's silence.

Alfred hesitated but continued, "I mean, Clark Kent is quite a famous name in investigative journalism and should he probe about your identity...."

"No, Alfred. He is a good friend and that's why I've granted him this interview." said Bruce, cutting their conversation short.

"Very well, Master Bruce." said Alfred, departing to the visitor's room to get Clark.

*****

Shortly thereafter

"Hello Mr. Kent. I hope I did not keep you waiting for long."

"It's Clark Mr. Wayne."

"Only if you call me Bruce, Clark."

"Excuse me gentle men." interrupted Alfred, "Please allow me to arrange refreshments for you"

"Why, thank you" Clark responded cordially.

A lot of thoughts rolled through Clark's mind they exchanged formalities. He noticed that something was wrong with Bruce, but couldn't get a chance to ask about it in front of his butler. The conversation dragged on for the sake of interview.

After a brief talk, they took a stroll in Wayne Manor lawn as dusk began to fall. As they walk, Clark can feel that Bruce is edgy.

"Is the interview the only reason you have come here?" asked Bruce

"No, of course not. I've been thinking about you Bruce. You were absent from JLA meetings for some time and you've even ignored the Bat signal. So, I decided that this is the only way to contact you. What's wrong Bruce?"

Bruce hesitated to tell Clark about Jason's death and how it's been affecting him.

"Something seems to have hurt you, Bruce. What is it?" insisted Clark, "You can tell me. More than anything, we are friends, you know."

" I don't know. I feel like I'm ... so alone." said Bruce, finally breaking his silence, "I'm having these nightmares about my parents ...and Jason...you know, ...Robin?"

"My God, what happened to him?"

"He's dead, Clark ...murdered...and...and I couldn't do anything about it..."

"Oh!! I never knew...." Clark is speechless and feels helpless to console Bruce.

A tear ran down Bruce's face, and he instinctively turns to the shadows to hide his emotions, but not quickly enough for Clark to notice it.

"Heavens! You're in pain, Bruce. Those nightmares must be horrible. You know we have to talk."

"Clark, more than anyone else, it's you who can understand how we balance life and death every night and day. But somehow I never thought I would have to bury Jason.... When I agreed to have him as partner, I thought of him succeeding me.... To carry on the Bat legacy... and now this...."

Clark tried to console him, knowing how hurt Bruce must feel. How alone he must feel, the same loneliness Clark felt when he learned that he was the sole survivor of a dead planet.

"Bruce, life is a constant struggle. A race from an ever approaching death. Do you know how I had to take lives of three criminals to avenge mass murder of an entire Earth?"

Bruce is shocked to learn this unbelievable truth. Clark tells of his own trauma and the nightmares that haunted him due to incidents in the pocket universe. After much discussion,

Bruce begins to talk openly and tries to learn how Clark faced his tragic moments and it's consequences.

*****

Afterwards:

"Well, I'm heading for Smallville tonight"

"You know, Clark, I really envy you, not because of your powers but because you have someone to lean on when you need them... Parents..." said Bruce.

"Bruce why don't you come with me to Smallville?" said Clark, suddenly getting an idea.

"Huh? But!"

"No ifs, ands, or buts. My folks will be glad to have you and don't worry, I'll just tell them that you're a friend of Clark Kent."

"Uh! Well... I still think.... Well, OK." agreed Bruce reluctantly, still undecided about the idea, but remembering Alfred's advice to engage himself in some "other" activities.

"It's settled then. I'll call my parents now."

They rush back to Wayne Manor and Clark calls his mother in Smallville.

"Hello Ma... how's Pa...nice to know that....I'll reach there tomorrow...tonight's flight....No, I'm bringing a friend...his name is Bruce...Ok, Ma ...Say hello to Pa for me....Bye"


9:30 A.M. August 7th, Jonathan Kent's house, Smallville.

"Helloooo! Pa?"

"How are you son?" said Jonathan Kent, adoptive father of Clark Kent, as he opened the door. "It's been a long time since you've been here"

"Oh! And who is this fine looking young man here?" continued Pa Kent, upon noticing Bruce.

"He's my friend Bruce Wayne from Gotham city, Pa"

"Are you the same Bruce Wayne, the billionaire industrialist?!!!" said Pa Kent, pleasantly startled for a moment.

Before Bruce can reply, Martha Kent comes out of the house. "Hush, Pa! Are you going to make them stand out here or invite them in?"

"Come in boys" said Jonathan hurriedly, regaining his thoughts.

"You boys must be tired after such a night's journey. Let me make some cool drinks for you." said a cheerful Ma Kent. "No, not for you, Pa. Remember your diet."

Jonathan sulks but knows better than to argue with his wife.

After some casual talk, Clark tells his father about his first meeting with Bruce.

"You know, Pa, when I was young, I wanted to travel all over the world. During my stay in Bhutran, I met Bruce. He was learning some yoga practices there. We met quite accidentally and ended up helping each other."

"Yes, and when he came to interview me yesterday, he proposed that I accompany him to Smallville." smiled Bruce, acknowledging the fact that Clark had cleverly hidden his identity while still telling the truth about their very first meeting.

"Bruce wasn't busy, so I just invited him here thinking that some fresh air will do him some good."

"That's swell Clark." said Pa Kent "I was wondering why a billionaire would be interested in a small town like this."

"No, No. I'm quite interested in this place." said Bruce.

"So, when are we going to see 'This town belongs to Wayne Corp' sign here. Hah-hah-ha!!" Jonathan laughed at his own joke and even Bruce flashes a grin.

Clark glances at him and is relieved to know that Bruce is enjoying these moments too.

They chat for a while, during which Bruce Wayne realizes that he suddenly feels calm and comfortable among these people.

"Did you know, Bruce, that I met your father Dr. Wayne when I was a young man returning from the Korean War?" said Pa Kent, revealing an incident that occurred a long time ago.

"Really! Please tell me all about it. How was he ... what did he look like...." Bruce almost begs him. Both Clark and Martha are also surprised to learn about this never revealed incident of Jonathan's life.

"He was a very warm hearted man. I still remember him nursing the soldiers who were injured in battle. He never had to work in extreme conditions but he believed that by taking care of the ill, he was making his contribution. I even owe him my whole life to him. He nursed me back to health when I returned from Korea with severe depression an physical illness. I was devastated by the death of my brother and almost lost my will to live, but Dr. Wayne encouraged me to hang on and it was through his example that I found a will to go on".

Jonathan paused for few seconds as if he is somehow reliving his younger days.

"Pa, you never told me any of this before."

"...me neither!" Martha said.

"Yes. I hid this incident from every one including you, Ma, because war is such a nasty business. I wanted to conceal every minute detail about it from my family. I tried so hard to do so that I succeeded in forgetting about Dr. Wayne too."

Pa seems a bit ashamed of his deed and says to Bruce "So when I saw you today, it brought back all those memories and I really feel nice that our sons are good friends too"

"Yes, indeed. Really good friends." Clark asserted.

"Son, all those people whose lives Dr. Wayne saved, still blesses him. Like me, there are many for whom Dr. Wayne came as a shining light." said Pa to Bruce. "I hope you too continue to keep your father's spirit alive..."

Bruce thinks how an act of kindness on his father's part changed someone's life who in turn guided his foster son to a path that made him do his best to make world a better place.

For the first time in many days he thinks positively in terms of all the hard work he had endured, night after night. He felt a satisfaction of sort and vowed to continue working even harder, thinking how fortunate he is to have such a friend. And thinking how fortunate he is that he decided to come to Smallville.

Later that night, for the first time in months, Bruce slept soundly.


The Next Day

Readying to return to their respective cities, both men reflect on the past day. Clark feels glad that he eased Bruce's tension by bringing him to Smallville. Bruce realizes that, more than his super powers, it is Clark's parents who are his real source of strength.

About to depart, Bruce feels shame in having concealed his identity from the Kents. He feels a sudden urge to open up.

"You know, Clark. It's silly to pretend about myself now" said Bruce, turning towards the Kents. "Just like Clark...well...I'm Batman ... when...when I'm not Bruce Wayne. And I'm really grateful to you and Clark to show me all these kindness."

"Land sakes! Bruce...Clark, is he really?" Jonathan could not believe it.

"Yes, Pa. Yesterday, he was so troubled about the death of his ward that he was at the brink of breaking up. I knew that I had to have a talk with him. I thought, if I bring him here, I can at least introduce him to people who truly and selflessly care. I never wanted to reveal that he is Batman. I think he did so own his own because he feels as if he belongs here. A member of the family. What do you say, Ma?"

"Oh! You're right son. Bruce, please think of us as your own family." Martha fumbled for words as she tried to speak.

"Yes, son. When I met you yesterday, you looked troubled and confused." said Jonathan. "But remember, if you need us, we'll be there for you. Please think of us as your own family."

Jonathan Kent comes forward and hugs Bruce. Martha follows suit.

*****

"Remember Bruce, you and I are family now." said Clark while flying Bruce back to Wayne Manor, "More then ever before you are my true friend."

"Clark...Thanks"

And Gotham witnesses a dawn not more significant than one which dawns for Bruce Wayne's life.

 
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