Friday, March 04, 2005

130. The omniscient narrator

The two masked men remained silent for hours. From time to time, Batman glanced at Robin, who continued to stare straight ahead. The older man ricocheted from anger to guilt to absolute despair.

This is all my fault, Batman told himself. He wasn't ready. I didn't train him. What made me think he could handle this job in the first place? He was an innocent. A civilian. I made a horrible mistake, and now look what has happened to him.

Batman tried hard for a moment to move—his first such attempt in a long time—but found he still could not budge without the direct permission of his captor. What on earth had Strange done to him to gain control over his muscles? The question was too difficult to fathom, and Bruce found himself losing focus for the thousandth time, his thoughts drifting eventually to the nature of his identy. Batman... Bruce Wayne... Who was he, anyway? He looked up and noticed, for the first time, a mirror a few feet away, mysteriously illuminated in the darkness. Had it always been there?

He gazed into it and saw himself in the reflection--his first glimpse of himself since this ordeal had begun. The beard growth on his face confirmed his suspicion that he had been held captive for at least four or five days, if not a week or longer. From the stubble his attention turned to the mask; yes, it seemed to say, you are Batman. At least for now.

But he could not help but notice that the cowl was the only evidence that he still played that role. And it suddenly felt more like a mere theatrical role than ever before. As he studied his reflection, he saw that he was, exactly as Strange had told him, now just a naked man with a Halloween mask covering his head. A naked man who was weak, defenseless, and heading for certain defeat...

A muffled sound roused him from this revelation. Bruce shifted his eyes again to stare at Robin. The younger man was sobbing. The tears started slowly and then consumed him. It was the first indication he'd given that he was anything more than a shell of a man at this point. Somehow, something about the situation must have shaken him out of the spell Strange had apparently cast upon him.

Watching Dick, mindful of the suffering he must be experiencing, Bruce begin to cry, too. It was not an emotion he'd ever felt comfortable displaying, in uniform or otherwise. But in this particular moment, empathy was a reminder that he was human. The more Bruce gave himself over to his own tears, the more comfortable he felt, as if a great wall of tension was at last beginning to crumble.

The two grown men were now sobbing uncontrollably, neither one capable of anything else. A third man--Hugo Strange, a.k.a. Dr. Gus Tanhoger--had been watching them through a peephole from the other side of the office door. He opened that door now, turned on the lights, and entered the room. His medical garb stood in stark contrast to the other men's near-nakedness as he walked over to Bruce and handed him a sheet of paper, motioning for the kneeling man to read it.

"I am proud of you, Mr. Wayne," said Dr. Strange. "You are making progress at last. Now we may begin the next phase of our work."