Prompt: The glass isn’t half full. The glass isn’t half empty. It’s got more room for wine in it. Prompt from this generator.
Bruce, as a rule, doesn’t get drunk.
It’s not that he isn’t tempted, that there aren’t nights when the soggy oblivion offered by the bottle is a hell of a lot more appealing than facing down the cold and the wind and the worst of mankind’s already dubious nature. Sometimes, when things are relatively quiet, he’ll let himself trust the boys with his city, whoever’s on monitor duty with his world, and give in to it; close himself off in his study and drink until two fingers look like four. He feels like shit, after, a hangover that’s as much guilt as dehydration, and he can’t look Dick in the eye the next morning, has to keep his gaze on the kitchen table while the boys slam breakfast and give him their report.
He feels like a failure, after, is the thing.
His parents rarely drank, the best he can remember. He has flashes of his mom with a glass of wine at some fancy dinner, of both of them holding champagne flutes and laughing on some long-ago New Years’ Eve. But his father never kept liquor in his private study, only in the parlor they used to receive guests, and Bruce is sure he never saw his father drunk.
They say alcoholism is genetically based, or has a strong genetic component, at least, and Bruce has read enough of the science to understand that there’s probably someone in his family tree who always yearned for another drink, who had a craving beyond sense that they couldn’t control. If he had children–biological ones, anyway–he might worry more about it, might make a point of quizzing Alfred about his family’s ancient past; Alfred’s probably forgotten more about the Waynes than anyone in the blood ever bothered to write down. But it’s academic, now, isn’t it? The only one left at the end of the Wayne line is he.
Another reason Bruce doesn’t like drinking: he’s a maudlin drunk.
And yet there comes a stretch where he finds himself holding a glass more often than not.
There’s no one thing he can pinpoint that sets it off, his own personal spiral. The league has a run-in with Starro, Hal accidentally almost incites an interplanetary war; Damian gets kicked out of yet another boarding school in record time, but none of that is anything new; it’s the kind of fucked-up that passes for his routine. Except–
Except there’s one afternoon when he’s reading the paper–something he almost never gets to do nowadays; he’s sitting at Butterfield 9downtown, dressed in his Bruce Wayne suit, and he’s eating a Cobb Salad and reading the Gotham Gazette when he sees a picture, a black and white little thing in the gossip column, framed over a small square of text:
That cry of chagrin you may have heard coming from the heart of Metropolis yesterday came on the heels of the announcement that Lois Lane, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist at The Daily Globe, is engaged–no, not to the Secretary General of the UN or the head of Lexcorp, as the Internet might have had you believe, but to Clark Kent. Who? Exactly. Kent is a local beat reporter for the Globe–and not a bad looking one, might I add–who’s somehow, some way swept Metropolis’ sharpest tongue off her feet.
His eyes keep moving but the words stop making sense, blurring together in a smeary newsprint haze, and after a minute, he tosses the paper aside and sticks up two fingers. Orders a tall, very stiff drink.
He doesn’t get blitzed that night, or the next, though the black dog never strays far from his heels. But it feels like there’s a weight in his chest, a leaden anchor that he can’t for the life of him pull away from his neck, along with a slithering fury, a flare of sharp-toothed anger that he’s afraid to look at too closely. He knows what it is, doesn’t he, that feeling, and the knowing is damn well bad enough; better not to face it head on.
So he turns to his work.
He goes out on patrol five nights in a row, pushing himself harder and longer than he has–than he’s needed to–in years. He comes home exhausted and aching, bruised even under his armor from his chin to his shins; he gets a black eye, of all things, and needs twenty stitches. He bruises three ribs and very nearly gets himself shot; only the Kevlar in his cape prevents that.
He stops going to breakfast, stops making any effort to see the boys before Damian heads off to school (number five) and Dick to his job at the foundation.
He stops talking to Alfred; starts hiding from him, really, the best that he can. And he stops waiting until the sun’s all the way up to pour his first drink, starts taking one with him when he crawls into an ice bath. Then two.
A week like this, isolated and sore, hungover and increasingly, terribly lonely. A week of puzzled texts from Dick: Hey Bruce you ok?; of video messages from Diana: I’m concerned. Please call me; of calls from his office that he sees no goddamn reason to return: Board meeting rescheduled you missed your eight o’clock Mr. Pennyworth says that you’re–
And then one night, he can’t go on patrol, can’t even get out of his chair, so he has to text Dick and ask if he can.
Of course, Dick types back. You ok?
Bruce chucks his phone to the other side of the room. Doesn’t answer.
It’s whiskey tonight, some beautiful rye he found at the back of the liquor cabinet; not hard to see the back of the thing, these days. The first few were beautiful, anyway; now, he might as well be drinking water. He’s lost all taste of it. Even the smell.
The bottle’s nearly empty and he’s not just drunk, he is wasted, his mind a dense, numbing fog but his body still feeling, somehow, each and every one of its years.
The door is locked and the fire is low and he’s tempted to stretch out in front of it, to tumble from his seat and lay supine on the oriental rug his mother bought on their honeymoon, a hundred colors that move this way and that. When he gives in, though, slides to his knees and then tips to his side, the rug’s not as soft as he remembers; against his cheek, the colors are scratchy and rough. He stretches a hand out to touch the hearth and the bricks are pleasantly warm; rough, too, but the tug of the brick is softened by the heat somehow. He wants to curl into it, wants to press his face to it, wants to feel the lick of the dying flames just so far from his face.
God, he’s cold, isn’t he. He’d pay his fortune to be warm.
There are tears on his face, maybe, or perhaps that’s only sweat. He’s not sure. He’s glad that he’s not.
The door is locked and the fire is low and Bruce is shivering, thinking about hands that will never touch him, of things that he’ll never say. He’s alone, truly, at last, cut off from everything but the scrambled sensations of his body and drunk, god. Is he drunk.
Which is why, when he first sees those boots, red and ridiculous, red, he doesn’t believe what his eyes are telling him. Why should he? He’s alone. The door is locked. And he’s drunk.
But then there’s a hand on his face, another on his shoulder, turning him gently over, and then someone kneeling next to him, the someone who’s still touching him, the someone whose eyes are so big and so inexplicably soft.
“Oh, god, Bruce,” Clark says. “What’ve you done to yourself?”