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NOTES: Naw. I'm not dead. This story's been percolating fic ideas since it started a few weeks back. This story insisted on being written almost the second I finished the comic that inspired it.
I have been denying it all along. Pretending that it didn't matter, trying to pretend that there was no Bruce Wayne. I stabbed my family through the heart with words sharper than any batarang in my attempt to flee into the only thing I have when I find the world beyond coping with.
I tried to erase the existence of Bruce Wayne.
I denied there -was- a Bruce Wayne anymore, but tonight proved me the author of my own foolhardy delusions.
When Catwoman showed up, looking for me--I called her Selina. Even in the cape and the cowl, I loved her once. I was Bruce to her, and had I truly been Batman, only Batman, no Bruce--she would have been Catwoman. But when I spoke, I spoke her name. "Selina."
When she offered to help, I said, "Go home, Selina." That tiny fragment of my psyche I was trying to smash into powder with sheer weight of my piledriver will refused to be smashed, and made itself known in so subtle a way I just did -not- get it, even then. Distracted, intentionally. Focused, intently.
Catwoma--Selina told me that Dr. Thompson was looking for me. Damn that woman, she knew Selina would find me, even if every other method of reaching me had "dried up," to use her term for it. When I arrived at her office, I was Batman. Brusque. Cold. Efficient. Unemotional.
And she spoke in that voice, like the dear friend she is, and reminded me that I might speak to everyone -else- I know that way [Barbara. Tim. Alfred. Oh, Lord, -Dick-. I'm so -sorry-!] but that I'd best remember my manners with her. Like I was responding to a command from a telepath of greater significance and raw power than a J'onn J'onzz, I obeyed and schooled my speech into something more respectful.
Bruce took the opening. When I spoke more politely, he jumped forward in my consciousness, and let me see with his eyes the pain I was causing my oldest family friend. With his heart, I felt a stab of guilt over the pain I caused her, listening to her say she wasn't even sure what I cared about anymore. With his soul, I felt something go cold and weak inside me when Kate told me that Detective Gary Sloan was in the hospital and not expected to live the week.
Bruce leaped forward inside me, and grabbed the aspect of my mind that is Batman by the throat and told me, in no uncertain terms, that we were going to grant Sloan's last request to see Batman. Bruce treated me to memories I chose to keep submerged unless I wanted to access them for the rage that fueled my fists on the streets with the detritus that walks Gotham's streets.
My own hands, covered in blood, pressed into a pool of it around my knees, with popcorn and pearls scattered in the dark, filthy alley around me, lit in strobes of red, white and blue as Gotham's finest had come to the rescue--too little, too late.
The chalk being drawn to make a misshapen outline significating that my parents' bodies had fallen one atop the other.
And finally, the fce of Gary Sloan--who strode past the uniforms, got down on his knees, and with respect for Bru--no, -my- loss, asked if I thought I would be able to talk about it.
Of course I went.
He's old, now. Grey. Still got the physique, though, even though his illness is wasting him away slowly. He was a good man when Bru--when -I- was a boy. He is still a good man. Police these days scoff at the name Batman. Gary Sloan spoke fondly of Jim Gordon, of our friendship, and warned me--the Batman--to stay away from cigarettes, in the most fatherly tone. I think that was the first time I actually smiled without it being a careful facade since they found Vesper's body and took Bruce Wayne away. He called me an agent of change, next, and said I'd been instrumental in bringing a murderer to justice. He remembered the time before I let Dick put on the colors and fly the night with me as Robin.
Then, he asked me a favor, and inside me, Bruce Wayne let go of my metaphorical throat, and laughed in my face.
See, the former Detective Sloan had asked to see Batman to have his last wish granted. A strange djinn would I make, indeed. But a dying man is entitled, even if he hadn't been -this particular- dying man. I might not be able to grant his wish, but the least I could do was hear it. Which is when Bruce began laughing.
Sloan's last wish was for me to solve what he referred to as his last case. He'd retired. I knew that; I said as much, that there couldn't be a last case. Sloan said there had been a promise made. He had promised Bruce Wayne, that poor orphaned child, that he would do his very best to find 'the man with the gun,' and that he'd never give up trying.
What he said next, though--Bruce stopped laughing in the back of my head, and fell respectfully silent. Under the Batman cowl, I felt a lump growing in my throat. Not the 'how sad little Bruce's eyes were' bit. I'd heard it. The tiny fragment, now gaining strength with every word, that part of me that was an insistent Bruce had heard it too, and knew from Sloan the words were sincere, but that wasn't what caused Bruce to fall silent. What caused him--and me--to stop dead in our tracks was Sloan's absolute certainty that Bruce Wayne had -not- murdered Vesper Fairchild.
Most of Gotham, and half the world thought Bruce Wayne guilty.
Hell, the people in the world who matter most to me, my closest confidantes, my by God -family- weren't even certain of my innocence.
But this man, this dying cop who had seen Bruce Wayne at the moment the germination of Batman began, was unshakably convinced there was nothing in Bruce Wayne that would make him a murderer. He handed Batman the evidence, and asked him to solve Bruce's parents' murder. He not only asked that, but asked Batman to do what he could to help Bruce. To clear Bruce's name. To give Bruce Wayne his life back.
And the fragment of my mind that I'd tried to quash out grew inside my head, fighting the cold calculating detective with which I'd filled every corner of my mind. The man I was, who I'd tried to write off as nothing but a facade, reminded me that this was his body and Batman only a mode of action to use it with.
I was helpless in Bruce Wayne's grasp for the rest of the night. Batman dove out the hospital window and was gone in an eyeblink between Sloan's breaths, and back to the batcave. Bruce's triumph echoed like a trumpet fanfare in my backbrain, comparing the photos of little Bruce, caught on film in a moment of horror as witness to his parents death. It resounded like the thunder of ocean waves against granite as he/I called up photos of adult Bruce, caught on film in a moment of horror as suspect to the murder of Vesper Fairchild.
The eyes did not change.
The eyes are the same.
Sloan said they were not the eyes of a murderer.
I had maintained I was innocent, even going so far as to let Gotham's judicial system take me to jail. Before I let Batman's rage and pain overwhelm me and allowed him to flatten me into some compartment in my own head.
Sloan will get flowers at his grave every year for as long as I live for what he has given back to me. What he has reminded me of.
As I open a connection from my computer that has not been used in weeks, and speak with a voice that shakes a little to ask Oracle to look something up for me, I realize something that my family tried to tell me.
I was never Batman pretending to be Bruce.
Nor was I Bruce, pretending to be Batman.
I am both, as I need to be, and denying one or other diminishes the whole.
I am Bruce Wayne and I am Batman, now and forever, because I -choose- to be.
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