“They were lovely and pleasant in their lives and in their deaths they were not divided”
January 21st, Anniversary
Bruce placed two perfect but unopened rosebuds
beneath the quote on the headstone, then stood erect and began the ritual
contemplation of his parents, their deaths, and the rededication of his life to
righting this wrong. No, nothing could ‘right’ the wrong, nothing would bring
them back… The rededication of his
life to… to the Mission.
The Quest, then.
Ah, like Don Quixote. Quest for what?
This wasn’t right. The Anniversary—the pilgrimage to the gravesite in daylight as Bruce and the alley at nightfall as Batman—was a time for solemn contemplation and reverence. Not splitting hairs about what this word or that meant…
“Words matter,” his mother taught him early. “They have power. Your words can make others happy or sad. They can persuade. They can topple empires. They can change the world. They can even change a life. Choose them with care, Bruce. Always.”
“No words can express what I feel since that night, Mom.”
“They can’t? English is a rich language, Bruce. The language of Shakespeare—and he tackled every thought and feeling human beings experience. I seriously doubt you’ve come up with something new. So, if you can’t find the words, maybe you’re not looking hard enough.”
“The looking hurts, Mom.”
“Of course it does, Bruce. I wish I could spare you that, Son, but it’s part of being alive. And I wouldn’t spare you that. Better that you hurt than that you died that night… Bruce? Don’t you shut down like that, my boy. You are ALIVE and IN THE WORLD, the sooner you accept that fact, the better… Bruce Thomas Wayne, you pull yourself together this instant. We’ve a lot to talk through and I’m not going to stop every 10 seconds and repeat that one point. You’re alive. It should be obvious to a so-called great detective.”
“Alright then, what are you thinking, right now?”
“That that’s the kind of thing she says. ‘World’s greatest detective’ … She loves going back to that anytime I screw up.”
In his mind’s eye, Bruce saw his mother smile.
“If she does, I’m sure it’s because, like your father, you place too much weight on intellect compared to your feelings.”
“That’s not it. She just likes throwing me off-balance.”
“Well, I dare say you know her better than I… You had another fight, I take it, before coming here today?”
“Yes, we had another fight. Pretty bad one.”
“Bruce, I swear, when this day comes around you have no more judgment than a popinjay. That wasn’t a bad fight. That was a very endearing little squabble borne of insecurity and very genuine affection.”
“Mom, you have some very odd ideas about fighting and affection.”
His mother laughed at him.
“Bruce, she was afraid she was hurting you. And you got quite a scare the other day when you thought you could lose her. You behaved quite abominably as a result—that’s becoming quite a habit with you, I notice…. Bruce, why do you think it is that you haven’t been able to go through your usual vows about Justice here today?”
“I don’t know, Mom.”
“Too easy. Think about it.”
“Because of what happened with Selina?”
“Still too easy.”
“I don’t know, I guess maybe I…”
“Bruce, you have to make peace with the living before you can make peace with the dead.”
“Yes. And the other one, too.”
“Sending that tape was the act of a cad, Bruce. I am heartily ashamed of you. That a son of mine would treat women as you have done.”
“Mom, I’m sorry, but believe me, with Talia you don’t know what you’re talking about. It’d be nice if I could be a hero and end it like a gentleman, but she’s not like that. Anything short of a smack in the head she’d spin into some fantasy that Batman is…”
“I will not tolerate this Bruce, I will not. You don’t love her, that’s fine. But any fellow being is entitled to a minimum degree of respect and consideration and I will not have you concocting these monstrous Batman scenarios to justify anything you want to do to people….”
“You don’t understand, Mom. You really don’t.”
“I don’t? Then why don’t you explain it to me, Bruce.”
“…Why don’t I explain that I’ve made your death into a cheap excuse for being a shit of a human being.”
“My poor baby. Where do you get such ideas? I’m not happy about the way you treat other people, Bruce, but I’m most disappointed about the way you treat yourself. You go now—make your peace with the living. Then you’ll be able to come back here and say what you need to say.”
January 22nd, A + 1
Moira hadn’t connected Talia’s interest in the Gotham newspapers with the move on Wayne Enterprises the previous year, not until Bruce Wayne called from the Metropolis heliport demanding an emergency ten minutes on Miss Head’s morning schedule.
Bruce Wayne. Some said the only thing worse than working at LexCorp would be working for that notorious playboy. But the figure that stepped into the executive reception area didn’t seem like a pinch’n’leer. He seemed like any other suit—a little older than she expected, or maybe just tired.
“Mr. Bruce Wayne to see you, Ms. Hea—” The buzzer unlocking the inner office cut off Moira’s announcement.
Wayne stepped through the doorway, and there was an immediate crash of Wedgewood hitting plaster.
Bruce had expected to dodge pottery when he first entered the office. He wasn’t quite prepared for the sight of an office already trashed by three days’ worth of tantrums. The apology, such as he’d rehearsed it, did not seem quite equal to the affront that caused this kind of devastation.
Still, he reminded himself, this was Talia. He was prepared to take responsibility for his actions, but he wouldn’t let this become personal. It wouldn’t do to admit to anything or do any heartfelt soul-searching in front of her. She was too eager to take anything short of cruelty as a pledge of true love.
Well… if not cruelty, honesty. Direct and clear: They were nothing to each other. They were not going to be anything to each other. If he picked an unfortunate way to deliver that message, it was only because he didn’t trust himself to see her face to face…
She began to smile at these words.
…without tearing her head from her body with his bare hands, he concluded.
“But, Beloved, I—”
“Did you think I wouldn’t notice, Talia?” he cut her off. “Did you think it would escape my attention that you picked Hell Month to pull this stunt?”
“Beloved, I only wanted—”
“You only wanted to make cheap and sentimental use of a very deep personal tragedy to serve your own selfish ends. A tragedy you only know of, I might add, because your father knows.”
“You must remind yourself always of who my father is, Beloved, to summon the will to stay away from me.”
Bruce sighed, exasperated and exhausted.
“I give up. I’m out of ideas. What’s it going to take? Tell me how to make you understand! We’re nothing. We have no future. We don’t have much of a past. What there was is finished, and it wasn’t enough to get worked up about losing.”
“You must speak in such terms to convince yourself, my Beloved, not me.”
Bruce did give up. It was hopeless. She would read anger as passion, pity as tenderness, exasperation as lust. There was no hope for it. He’d tried his best. She would believe whatever she wanted.
He left her inner office, shaking his head sadly. He left the outer office… then stopped, backed up a step and saw Moira’s screensaver.
LEXCREEP: YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE A DERANGED PSYCHOPATH TO WORK HERE BUT IT HELPS
Bruce faxed Moira’s resume to Lucius Fox from WE-One, the Wayne Enterprises Corporate jet. By the time the plane landed at Gotham Executive Airport, Lucius had confirmed her new position heading an assistant training program at Wayne Enterprises—the Metropolis branch.
Lucius repeated that it was a pity not to have a program like this at the corporate headquarters.
Bruce repeated that he had tried, but the lady was emphatic about remaining in Metropolis. “Her fella” worked for the Daily Planet, she said.
Lucius hinted that the real reason was that a secretary at that level probably heard stories about the CEO of Wayne Enterprises and was wary about accepting a job he had offered because he liked her screensaver. The branch office was safely in another city. In a year or two, once she realized the job was legitimate, they could move her to Gotham.
Bruce yawned loudly into the car-phone and said he would take the rest of the day off. Lucius sighed, hung up, and began rearranging the afternoon meetings.
Arriving home, Bruce walked through the kitchen, picked up the morning newspaper from his untouched breakfast tray, poured himself a glass of orange juice, walked though to the butler’s pantry and took Alfred’s elevator down to the Batcave. He logged in automatically, then dropped the newspaper onto the keypad. One of the automated monitoring routines threw up a map of the city indicating a crime connected to one of his themed enemies. A yellow circle was superimposed on the map with a zoom in on the museum district. Beneath it were the words:
Gotham Historical Museum:
The newspaper headline stared up at him:
CAT-CRIME IN GOTHAM!
To be continued…