Ashes of Roses

by Darklady

Disclaimer: Everybody who thinks I got DC Comics for Christmas, raise your hands. Nobody? Thought so. Now we can get on with the story.

Continuity note: January 21st - year two of Bruce/J'onn.

Rated: PG

Bruce Wayne folded back the dampened green foam to expose the blushing scarlet heads.

Two roses - dark red.

Flawless.

Almost black in the shadowed interior of the Jaguar. Rich with scent, the dream-soft petals brushed soundlessly against each other as Bruce steered through the tight evening traffic.

Perfect.

These flowers were not from Alfred's bushes. The weather had been mild this year, but not so gentle that two such unspotted blooms would have remained. Not even on Alfred's carefully tended rows.

No matter.

Alfred's would have been sweet, but such gestures were seldom possible.

Work with what you had.

How early he had learned that.

Chose as well as you could. Plan as carefully. Anticipate. Manipulate. But in the end - you took what you had been given. Which often was... more then adequate.

These were.

Alfred had chosen well.

Catching a glimpse of flaring tail lights, Bruce slowed and waited for the space. Parking was getting tighter in this neighborhood since the Gotham Renaissance. That was what the financial papers were calling the rebuilding since the earthquake. And a rebirth it was. Wayne Industries wasn't the only company profiting from the reconstruction. Especially in these once-decaying neighborhoods.

He slid the car in neatly, one hand snapping free the seat belt even as he set the parking brake.

Geography or architecture - or just luck. Many of of the old steel-frame masonry buildings had survived where they larger monuments to commercial ego had crumbled. Now? With the 'bad elements' chased out by the combination of the planning commissions and the National Guard, the returning Gothamites had flocked to the affordability of the 'classic neighborhoods', carving lofts and apartments out of the once decaying mansions and reviving the storefronts with restaurants and boutiques. Even restarting theaters in the long empty movie houses.

He locked his car, glancing up as he did so at the neon-light marquee. The broken letters announcing the Mask of Zorro were long gone - replace by the bright posters of a neighborhood repertory. Much Ado About Nothing. He would heave to tell Alfred - or Dick. Barbara might enjoy that.

Bruce would... He paused. Perhaps he should send then tickets to the Opera instead. Dick might insist on making it a family outing, and he did not think he would be comfortable in there - no matter how freshly redone an interior the restored movie house might boast.

Ten steps to the alley entrance.

Two more, because he had to step back for a lady waking her shi-zu. Apparently the potted trees the city had planted along the sidewalk held a more then aesthetic attraction.

He scanned the neon-bright skyline, waiting for the pair to finish their business and go on. Not that the delay would matter. He had time. Tonight he had endless time.

At least the alley was still empty.

Cleaner then he remembered. Bruce scanned the narrow road between the windowless walls. Very little here had been rebuilt, yet... it clearly was changed.

Brick planters marked out what would be the stage entrance.

Music crept though under the gray -painted door - along with a thing crack of flickering brightness - but neither was strong enough to disturb his solitude.

Changed, and unchanged.

Like so much.

Bruce held out the roses.

Five steps to the... spot.

Fresh concrete. New this year. Barely tire-marked, although the alley must be used for deliveries.

No mark. No evidence. Except for him.

Except for this.

He knelt, laying first one rose, then the other, on the graying pavement.

Eyes closed, head bent. Not prayer, but... the wish for prayer.

alert

A hand on his shoulder.

Police? Come to investigate?

That too would be new. Years before, a man could have committed murder in this alley without attracting attention. Could and did, as he knew. As he knew.

Turn. Half rise.

A flash of blue cloth.

A bare leg. Green?

Bruce blinked. And involuntary act, but..."J'onn?" It had to be, but... "What are you doing here?"

A broad hand slid into his, urging Bruce Wayne to his feet.

"Where should I be?" Simple words, but backed by a wealth of soft emotion.

"I didn't..." The automatic denial, stifled even as it was heard.

Say? Tell? Ask? Why should you need to? Mental questions, blurring into and around each other, joined yet clear.

"You didn't...." Another denial, automatic as the first.

"Need to come?" The completion this time in words. Words needing... not to be spoken, but perhaps needing to be heard. A smile, not glad but deep and knowing. "Where else should I be?"

end