Granny Crane lived next to a graveyard.
In a small trailer park near the Gotham church. They lived there partially because the rent was cheap, as the funereal location was less than alluring, and partially because Granny Crane liked being so close to the church. Jonathan didnt mind, even if she would drag him there daily to confess the sins she believed him to be festering in. No, Jonathan didnt mind, because sometimes, at dusk, when Granny was gently snoring with her drinks and her stories, he could sneak out and weave through the gravestones, with the amber autumn sun at his back, then the rising harvest moon.
Jonathan was afraid of many things, but he didnt fear the dead. In all his time at the graveyard, no ghosts had plagued him, and that was more than young Jonathan could say for the living. He was afraid of the living- of the bullies who beat him blue and shouted names, of his grandmother who drank and swore and called the devil down on his bastard head, of birds, of bats. But the dead were quiet, soft things, and he could sit on the damp moss beneath the moon and stroke their stones and they would listen, really listen. And he wasnt afraid.
Jonathan saw many funerals take place in his graveyard, many men and women, young and old, relinquished to his grounds. Hed watch from the branches of trees, or behind weathered stones with endless enthrallment. Hed watch as families cried and comforted and stood, stone faced and agonizing, filled with fear for an unknown end.
It fascinated him, their fear. Fear of death. Of loneliness.
Jonathan didnt fear death. He simply considered it, scientifically and impartially. Death was inevitable. And fearing the inevitable was useless- But that didnt mean one had to surrender to it, either. As for loneliness, Jonathan knew little else, so there was not much to consider, scientifically or otherwise.
Jonathan would always take time to talk with the newly buried- it was one of his rituals. Hed ask them questions, about what it was like, about what came after, like a scientist gathering evidence. Not that he expected any answers, of course. He wasnt crazy.
One summer night- a sluggish, warm night, the kind of night that seems too hot for breathing- Jonathan made his way to a freshly covered grave. Hed seen their funeral that day; a young couple, famous and wealthy and beautiful. Thousands of guests had turned up, and Jonathan had had to take his spot high in a cherry tree to avoid being seen. It was as if the city emptied for these two, socialites and stars in all their finery sobbing next to the dingy, disheveled poor, all piling into the rotting outskirts, just for one night. Jonathan let his gaze drift to the city beyond- it was almost black. As if the city was weeping for them. Oh yes. Jonathan had many questions for these two.
However, that night, when he arrived at their grave- a large, imposing thing at the top of the hill- there was already someone there. A boy. Jonathan ducked behind a chipped stone, (one of those ghoulish stones with a headless angel and twisting moss ,) barely containing a cry. He was furious and frightened and cold, in that instant. This boy had touched something sacred, something intrinsic in Jonathans soul. When the night fell this place was his, it was, it was-
It was only then that he realized the young boy was crying.
Jonathan glanced out from behind the stone. Yes, the boy was there, in a rumpled tuxedo coat that hung off his shoulders comically and blue striped pyjamas. He pulled the coat around himself like a superheros cape and sobbed into it, big, thick little-boy tears that spoke of agony and inexpressible sorrow. He was curled limply in front of the massive grave, the name Wayne illumed above him, shining effervescent in the clear moonlight. He sounded as if he could hardly breathe for weeping.
Jonathan decided he was not afraid of him.
He stood, dusting himself off, and strode over to the boy, all awkward limbs and fumbling. The boy spun around with a gasp.
Who are you? The boy choked, rising headily to his feet. He pulled the coat tighter and attempted to stand tall, (well, as tall as four feet can possibly stand,) and held himself protectively in front of what Jonathan could only assume was his parents gravestone.
Jonathan Crane. You? He asked coolly.
Bruce. He sputtered. Then, with slightly more conviction, Go away.
No. Jonathan replied, and Bruces lip quivered. He backed up against the stone.
Please? Bruce whispered, sniffling. Jonathan sighed.
Im not going to hurt you or anything, you know. He said, taking his customary seat in the moist earth before the gravestone.
Wh-what are you doing? Bruce asked. Jonathan rolled his eyes as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
Im going to talk to them, of course. I talk with all my charges. The voice of a psychiatrist echoed from the boys mouth. Bruces eyes widened.
Talk with them? You mean
You can do that? He sat down hard next to Jonathan, wiping his nose on his sleeve and taking distinct steps to quell his sobbing.
Yes, of course. Jonathan said, feeling powerful and superior in that he could pass on his meticulously gathered knowledge.
How? Bruce asked, wide-eyed and desperate. Are you
Psychic? He whispered innocently. Jonathan rolled his eyes.
Of course Im not psychic. You just- You simply
Talk to them. As were talking now. He explained.
But how do they answer? Bruce asked.
Oh, they dont. Jonathan replied, and Bruces shoulders fell. Jonathan caught himself, for some reason not wanting to crush the boys hopes.
That is, they dont in the same sense we do. But they can trigger emotions, and memories, and sometimes those are answers enough. He finished. Bruce looked up, tears gone, eyes clear and decisive.
Can I try? His voice was steady now, strong. Determined.
Uh- sure. I mean, of course, yes, certainly. He said to Bruce, nodding towards the stone. Ive never tested it with someone who knew the deceased beforehand Jonathan murmured to himself, his delight rising. His eyes met Bruces, who smiled and gripped his hand. Jonathan was immediately uncomfortable, the smaller boy now too close, far too close, now they were touching and it was frightening and strange and-
Bruces voice was clear. His tears fell silently, but his words never wavered, eyes closed, speaking his thoughts like a prayer. About how scared he was, how alone, how big and terrifying the world seemed now, how nothing felt right, how, how could he wake up in the morning now, every day- every single day, without them here? How Alfred, (Alfred? Jonathan thought, but said nothing) was trying his hardest and how Bruce did love him but missed them. How the house was echo-ey and cold. How Rachel didnt come to play anymore. How everyone looked at him like he was dying too. How he was, inside. How he hated their killer. How he loved them, forever. How his new friend Jonathan was with him now. How he hoped they would answer.
He let go of Jonathans hand, pulling the coat to his face and sobbing full into it. He needed to be alone, and Jonathan simply observed, scientifically, detachedly. But he could not deny how he wanted to hold the other boy. To tell him it would be okay.
Jonathan swore he heard Bruce whimper, but did not comment. Bruces sniffling subsided, and he looked to Jonathan with a watery smile.
I remembered my father. He said, and his eyes were happy. The day by the well, when he
Bruce smiled, brought himself up on his knees. He leaned over to Jonathan and in one quick motion left a soft kiss on his cold cheek.
Thank you. He whispered. Their eyes met- Bruces contented, sleepy and thankful, Jonathans like a broken mirror, reflecting a thousand levels of shock. And then another voice broke the moment.
Master Wayne! the voice echoed, proper and British and filled with worry.
Im here, Alfred! Bruce turned, wiping his eyes on the coat sleeve and turning around, waving an arm in the direction of a white-haired, disheveled man.
Im here. He repeated, and allowed himself to be hefted into the older mans arms, to be chastised over and over, though it seemed half-hearted, as Alfred looked incredibly relieved.
Bruce looked back, just once, to see if Jonathan was still there.
Bruce whispered mildly, laying his head on Alfreds shoulder.
But the boy was not a ghost. He was already high in a cherry tree, touching his cheek, confused and flustered and oddly warm.
The living arent all bad.
* * *
Only once, while patrolling the streets of Gotham, did Batman hesitate in the capture of a criminal.
The Scarecrow, he called himself. Hed set Bruce on fire, thrown him off a building, terrorized hundreds of people, and there he was, in Batmans grasp. Bruce had seized him by the hair and shoved the canister of fear gas in his face, about to pull the trigger when-
His face. A ghost passed through Bruces memory and he hesitated. A ghost from the past.
Bruce shook it off. He sprayed the poison, and Scarecrow screamed, his mind failing, his fear consuming him.
Who do you work for? Batman growled. Terrified blue eyes stared back.
Doctor Crane isnt here at the moment. He answered. Bruce threw him down in horror, as if hed been burned. The name Crane echoed in his mind like the sharp, metallic clang of a knife. He looked down at the shrieking man in disgust, but disgust at whom, he wasnt sure. Tears leaked into the greasepaint at his eyes, and he choked on an apology, taking off into the night.
There was work to be done.