The war had ended in the night as quickly as it had begun. The city raged below, the people pulling together in their time of crisis, working to put back their broken city. Their homes. Their lives.
Two watchful figures stood on an overlooking hillside outside the city, their eyes shining in the glow of the fires below. A man and a boy. Silent. Their long capes swayed with the wind, though they were unmoved.
"It's strange to see them working together like that. Usually they're clawing each others throats," the boy said, breaking the lull.
He saw the man move, but only slightly. The darkness gave their emotions cover. "There will come a day when the world no longer needs heroes like you and me. Humanity will find that it's able to stand on its own, without out help," the man said to the younger as they watched over the work they had set in motion continuing in the city below.
"Maybe," the boy said quietly. He wanted to believe his mentor, but he had seen too much evil to think the world would ever be able to take care of itself.
"Have faith in ordinary humans. Ordinary humans are the reason we're here." he said with an ironic smile on his lips.
"Because they can't take care of themselves," the boy said snidely. The truth was, he liked taking care of people, and he was afraid of the day they would no longer need him. "And even when we're gone," he added quickly, "they will still remember us. They won't ever be able to move on or make their own way. They'll always look to our statues and aspire to be the heroes we were...are."
"Let them," was the simple reply. The boy turned to face his partner. They had been together so long, but he still found it hard to consider them friends. "If the people don't have hope, they'll stay in the same rut they've always been in. But when they see us, their hearts alight with the idea...the possibility that they could do what we do."
"You give them too much credit. You think everyone has the passion you do." The boy turned away from the hillside, away from the debate.
Still, the older man called after him. "Do you realize what we are?" The boy stopped. "We're their symbols. We're they're hope. All it takes is one man." Slowly, the man strode forward. When he reached the boy, he placed a firm hand on his shoulder. "This cape, this mask. They mean nothing. It's merely the man who has hope, who dons the cape to be a symbol, who will inspire people."
The boy closed his eyes. He heard warmness in the older man's words, warmness he hadn't heard in years. "What about the ones filled with hate?" he dared to ask. "Those consumed by evil will always oppose those who stand for good. Someone will have to pick up a mask."
"Perhaps. Or perhaps the ones we inspire to good will rise to stomp out the evil; they will be the ones to change the world. Then they will be the real heroes." He could feel the boy disregarding his words even as he said them. "We may be able to fend off evil, but while we wear these masks, ridding the world of it is something we can never accomplish. That's something only the ordinary humans can do."
The boy sighed. "A world that needs no heroes. A time that has no place for them. That sounds dreamy." He allowed himself a smile and turned to face his mentor. "Are you sure you aren't just fooling yourself?"
The man smiled down at younger. "You go on ahead. Tell Alfred I'll be right behind you."
The boy nodded and dashed away. He watched the boy go, envying his youth. Still, the child was much too serious for his age. The man wondered if he had been the same way.
"It's an enormous burden for one man to carry, heroism," the man said to himself turning back to watch his city rebuild. "There are a lot of people out there. Surely a few could step up to make a change." He shook his head. "Perhaps I am fooling myself." Then he turned his back on Gotham just as the sun was beginning to rise.