There’s blood on his hands. It’s red and sticky and thick, all over his hands, in between his fingers, under his nails, caked into every line and crevice of skin. It’s soaked into his pants and shirt, but all he can see are his hands, pale and trembling and covered in his mother’s blood. Not only blood, there’s dust too- thick gold dust, glittery and coarse, mixing with the blood, a collage of crimson and aureolin, human and daemon. A canvas of death. And then, there’s someone screaming- a harsh, high noise. It’s pained and awful and Bruce just wants it to stop, wants everything to stop, wants to wake up at home with Mom and Dad and Alfred and for everything to be normal, for the pool of blood and dust to be gone, just a nightmare, a bad dream to wash away with hot chocolate and hugs and trips to the museum. Only, it’s not a dream and his parents are sprawled out in front of him, dead, and Althea and Agatone are gone, dust, and the horrible screaming just won’t stop. It’s not until the wail of police sirens ring shrilly in his ears does he realizes that he’s the one that’s been screaming.
The police cars lite up the entire alleyway with spiraling flashes red and blue. The bright lights glimmer and dance as reflections in the thick pool of red-black blood. People are shouting, but Bruce can’t make out the words. The screaming- his screaming- has finally stopped, leaving his throat raw and aggravated, but all of that is just so...distant. The sound of gunshots is still ringing in his ears and he can’t stop looking at his hands, looking at the bodies and the dust and the great void growing larger and larger from within. His mother’s eyes are still open, pale blue staring out into nothing, red pouring out from the hole in her head. There are flecks of blood caught on her eyelashes. Her hands are stretched out to meet his father’s, but they just don’t quite reach. His father- his father’s body is small and broken and so different from his form in life. They’re haloed by his mother’s prized pearls, white and gleaming like bone in the sea of blood and dust.
“Son, can you hear me?” Someone has placed a hand on his shoulder. “Can you stand up?” Bruce can’t look away from his parent’s body, can’t look away from the gore and death and sudden emptiness in his life. “Son, where’s your daemon?” Bruce blinks. Nyx? Nyx is…he feels out for her through their connection. For the first time, he turns from the scene of the crime. He understands immediately why the officer hadn’t seen her. At some point she’d shifted into something small and black and hidden: a house cat. A kitten. She’s closer to the bodies than he is, but to the left, curled up in where the dust is thickest. She had been between his parent’s daemons before the man had come, before the man had taken out a gun, before he had shot his parents squarely in the head and chest. Nyx isn’t moving and her eyes are closed. Her black fur is coated in dust and in the dim of the alleyway; she looks like a part of the road, coated like everything else in their family’s death.
It takes the officer a moment to see where he’s looking and then his daemon, a big golden brown pit-bull with a white belly and pale honeyed eyes, is approaching Nyx, slowly, with a soft sort of caution. The officer still has his hand on Bruce’s shoulder. His daemon, the pit-bull, is gentle, kind, as she reaches down and takes Nyx by the scruff of her neck. Nyx hangs there, her feet curled into her body and her now golden-yellow eyes open and blank. And then the officer’s warm hand is gone and there’s something being draped over his shoulders- a coat. “I’m going to pick you up now, is that alright?” Bruce closes his eyes. The officer pulls him up, his arms going beneath Bruce’s knees and arms. He holds him carefully and close, like his daemon holding Nyx, ignoring the blood and dust getting all over his uniform. Bruce’s eyes flutter momentarily and he catches a glimpse of the man: ginger brown hair, gray eyes, and a tired face.
A car door opens and he’s being lowered down, into the back seat. Bruce looks down at his hands. The blood is starting to dry, brown and stiff and painful against his skin. He can just make out the spirals on his finger pads. It almost looks as if he’d been painting. The officer’s pit-bull daemon places Nyx down next to his leg. Bruce stares at her for a moment, at her gold splattered fur, before going to pick her up with shaking hands. He holds her close, almost suffocatingly so, and presses her into his chest. Nyx doesn’t respond, doesn’t move.
The police officer is still there, crouched beside the police car, his daemon at his heel. “I’m Detective Gordon, and this is Hilda. Can you give us your names son?” Bruce pulls the officer- Gordon- he pulls Gordon’s coat tighter around him and Nyx. It’s a soft, worn material that’s heavy against his skin, grounding.
“My n-name is-” it hurts to talk, hurts to breath- “my name is B-Bruce Wayne and, and t-this is Nyx.”
There’s a flash of shock on Detective Gordon’s face before, “Thank you Bruce, you’re being very brave.” Bruce doesn’t say anything. There’s nothing to say. “Bruce, I have to stay here, but Officer Bullock is going to take you back to the station, is that okay?” Bruce hesitates, his finger curling into Nyx’s fur. He doesn’t want Detective Gordon to go, doesn’t want to be left alone, alone, no parents- “Bruce, Bruce. Look at me. Everything’s going to be alright. I’m going to catch the guy that did this.” He places a hand back on Bruce’s shoulder. “But in order to do that, I need to stay here.”
“You promise? Y-you’ll get him?”
“I will do everything in my power to do so. I promise Bruce.”
Bruce looks into Detective Gordon’s eyes. Everything about him is sincere, if a little tired. Slowly, Bruce nods and Detective Gordon’s reassuring hand is gone and then the door is closing and Bruce is alone in the police car.
Then, Officer Bullock is in the driver’s seat and his fox daemon is sitting in the passenger’s seat. The drive to the police station is a blur. At one point, Officer Bullock tries to say something, but the words are lost to Bruce. The farther he gets from the crime scene the harder it is to think. They’re still caked with blood and dust and it’s all he can see, all he can feel. Nyx hasn’t shifted once since they watched their parents die.
At the station, Alfred and Shylah are waiting for them. The second he sees them everything comes rushing in. His parents are dead, Althea and Agatone are dead, he’s never going to see them again, never come home after school to Mom in the garden or the library, never listen to Dad’s rambling on medical procedures and the hospital, no more good night hugs and kisses, no more trips to the movies or the museum or the park, no questions to Althea about snakes and other cold blooded creatures, no more watching Agatone flutter and fly, no more Mom and Dad. All that’s left is Nyx and Alfred and Shylah, but that’s not enough, won’t ever be enough.
He’s crying, he realizes: big heavy sobs that give way to hot salty tears rushing down his face. Alfred is there though, there to hold him close and whisper that everything’s going to be okay. Nyx is squirming in his arms for the first time, finally moving.
“Put me down, put me down!” She hisses, digging her claws in. Bruce drops her in shock. She hurls herself at Shylah, burying her little black head into the German shepherd’s thick fur.
“Come along Master Bruce, let’s get you home.”
Officer Bullock stops them before they can leave. He’s quiet, and Bruce almost misses what he says to Alfred. “Remember, they’ll need to come back within the next few days for a witness statement.”
Alfred nods, curt and precise. “We shall come back. Are we free to go now?”
Bullock runs a hand through his slick hair before nodding. “Yeah, you’ve already filled out the paperwork.”
“Thank you, sir.” And with that, Alfred has a hand on his shoulder, guiding him, and Nyx is safely in Shylah’s jaws. Bruce thinks back to Detective Gordon, in the alleyway, and his comforting presence. He wonders if they’ll meet again. Either way, it’s good to be back with Alfred, back with…family.
The ride back to the manor is long and quiet; the silence only punctured by Bruce’s muffled sniffles and Shylah’s soft condolences. The manor is empty without Mom and Agatone’s vibrant colors and boisterous personalities, without Dad and Althea’s gentle presence and soft voices. Even Alfred and Shylah are somewhat different: Alfred seems to have aged ten years overnight, his once permanent smirk and sly jokes suddenly gone, and Shylah’s mischievous attitude vanished, replaced with a serious and grave looking dog. And Nyx- Nyx hasn’t shifted once. Usually she was constantly going between their favorites: snake, panther, iguana, falcon, platypus, and every other cool and strange animal. Now Nyx sits quiet and still, a plain and simple house cat.
When Alfred and Shylah finally leave them alone to shower and clean up, Bruce asks the question that’s been simmering since they arrived at the manor. “Nyx,” his words still taste like ash and come out raw and uneven. “Nyx, is this, are you…?”
She flicks her tail. “We’re settled, if that’s what you’re asking.” She gives a pitiful sort of laugh. “It- it makes a sick sort of sense, doesn’t it? Unlucky black cat, that’s us, nothing but trouble for everything and e-everyone we touch?”
“Oh.” It’s all Bruce can say. He thinks back to how he had pestered Mom and Dad to taking him out to the movies, into going to that specific theater, how they had never even noticed the man approaching over his inane chatter. Bad luck indeed.
“It should have been us.” Nyx paces across the bathroom floor. The golden dust is stark against her black fur. It almost looks like stars scattered across the night sky in the fluorescent lighting. “We wanted to see the movie. It should have been us!”
Bruce looks at himself in the mirror. There’s tear tracks against his cheeks alongside dried blood splatter. His pants are still wet, even after all this time. He’s got something gray stuck in his hair, in the collar of his shirt, something he doesn’t want to think about. His eyes are bloodshot and empty. “This can’t happen again.” Bruce says, still staring into the mirror.
“What?” Nyx stops pacing.
“We have to find the man who did this and we have to make sure that he never, ever does this again.”
“How? How are we supposed to help anyone Bruce? We couldn’t even help our own parents!” Nyx’s large ears go flat against her head. “We were useless!”
“We’ll be better. We’ll get stronger. We’re never going to let anyone harm someone like our parents ever again, not without a fight. We’re never going to be helpless ever, ever again.” Nyx looks at him like he’s crazy but Bruce is already miles away. He will bring his parents to justice. He will become a stronger, better person. With that thought on his mind, Bruce turns on the water and with a cold determination burning from within, plunges his hands into the running stream and begins to wash away the blood.