This is a work of unlicensed fan fiction.
BATMAN is owned by publisher DC COMICS. The film adaptation BATMAN (1989) was produced by Jon Peters and Peter Guber for Warner Brothers Entertainment Inc. BATMAN RETURNS (1992) was produced for WB by Denise Di Novi and Tim Burton.
BATMAN created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane.
The 1989-1992 film adaptations are the primary canon for this story.
CHAPTER ONE: MOURNING DRIVE
The air was much thinner in what had once been called the Dominion. Weather and elevation explained it, but James Gordon thought grimly that the area somehow knew that it need not provide much oxygen. Graveyards, after all, require little. He had been driving for at least twenty minutes, the last of the McMansion's were behind him now, but his mind refused to be present and lingered on what was left on the road. He could still see it, replaying over and over.
There was a long formation of trees, transplanted into the Dominion's earth in eerily uniform lines that resembled the restoration of war-ravaged Europe. In waiting for the inspection that would never come, the branches had grown wild and tangled in themselves like several generations of deserted spider webs. Some had leaned, resolute to the last, drooping their limbs over the road, forming a kind of archway better suited for a Grimm fairy tale. There were stretches of the drive where the daylight, already hobbled by cloud cover, lost its ability to shine through, and night fell.
Then suddenly, at its darkest, the brush cleared, and he glimpsed the gates. The road rose, and there were the unkempt acres of land unsuccessfully staving off nature's reclamation. The roof of the little watchhouse had caved, and the tendrils of moss and grit had swallowed it whole.
A lonely manor made its last stand, empty, desolate, and stark against the gray, gloomy November morning, defiant against the invading hordes. No, not defiance, merely a ghostly reenactment. It bothered Gordon, on a morning when he needed nerve, so much so he turned on the radio, which whined clamorously enough to disturb the stillness that he named decay and dared not call death.
"Make your blood run cold, doesn't it?" Gordon asked aloud to no one. The slight slur inherent in his speech sounded almost inebriated through his healthful jowls, less like a member of the GCPD, more like a crumb in a Clint Eastwood movie. He was wearing the dark dress uniform of a police officer that fit the beat cop of thirty-five years past suitably enough but strived to contain Commissioner James Gordon. It was most noticeable around the collar where his neck refused to make an appearance. He looked like he was out fundraising door to door begging for new squad cars. And he supposed he was. It was still just an unspoken rumor in the press, even the vultures dare not say it aloud, but sooner or later Mayor Borg would have to admit that the city was nearly bankrupt. It had been a rough year for the department and the one ahead looked worse. Yes, a rough year. For Gordon, too.
"Blood runs cold," he said again. He was grave, his eyes deeply set, and then his expression turned to mawkish horror for an invisible audience, and he let loose a short and rough laugh that sounded much harsher than he hoped. That's because it was a forced report, sounded to frighten away feelings he wished to bury.
Gordon began to speed along a stretch of tree-canopied road. He did not wish to tempt the darkness. The heater started to shudder. He would have to turn it off. He killed the radio, too. The quiet that had followed him out of bed that morning pressed in on him again and his thoughts ran back across the river and to home, empty and lonesome, haunted, but not dark like this old isle. Dark enough perhaps. Silence could ring louder than a shuddering dashboard... or rappings in the night, he reckoned. After all, a little rap was all it was, no trouble, and if it was... well, it was probably just Barb shuffling to the water closet and stumbling.
He felt a tug and cleared his throat.
The Dominion was a master-planned community situated on approximately ten thousand acres on the other side of the Reinhardt Tunnel far away from Gotham proper. It had once had the look of a well-kept gaming park, now it looked like the wild had overtaken it. Abandonment. It occurred to Gordon that the eerie resonance that was passing over him was the result of memory. He had seen this community-only once-in its glory days before it had taken on the form of a shambling husk. And now, as he turned onto Mountain Drive, minding his speed and the stark, peculiar curve that hid the byway from the road unless you were searching for it, his blood took the suggestion and began to curdle.
When he suddenly felt he could go no further he had pulled off the path made more of dirt than gravel. He took his cap with him, intending to protect himself against the cold with it, but he left it on the driver side flasher. It sat there still half tilted on the police car and waited for the old man to finish.
The hot smoke felt like a shockwave in his lungs as it mixed with ice. Gordon kept his eyes on his Ford Fairmont while he finished his cigarette. It sat there looking beat up and unclaimed and all he could think about was how Bruce Wayne had sat in his service Plymouth, not a Ford back then, and Gordon had told the kid about his wife to pass the minutes.
The Plymouth had its flashers on because the headlights couldn't quite find the way. There was no emergency, not anymore. It was just a narrow dirt path back then, not yet mingled with the crushed rock someone had thought to lay in the intervening years, and the lumbering car wore every bit of it. He had to move slowly. He could feel the body rub against every clawed branch. Twigs cracked and made loud pops with every turn of the wheels, and the kid in the back jumped at every one of them. Gordon saw his nerves had not yet retired from the watch, they had not yet melted into anguish. Soon enough, it would slide over him. Gordon thought that talking might keep him knitted together a while longer, and in his shame, he remembered now he only wanted to keep him from crying in the car. Let the butler unravel that mess.
They talked about his wife, Barbara.
Actually, Gordon talked, while, in the moments where the alternating flash of red and blue could not keep away the dark, a young boy grew hollow.
Otherworldly, Gordon thought, quietly this time.
The last mile reminded him of the opening of that Kubrick film where the family goes nuts at an old resort hotel. The landscape was well-kempt now, but the estate was severe and barren, hardly any trees. There was (snow?) frost that had dusted the grass recently. Underneath the white, the turf was brown and brittle. The closer he got the more the manor seemed to pull farther away. The road was paved again, and a straight shot, so he could see the spires (is that what they were called) gouging the sky with their needle pricks. It took forever for it all to come into proper focus.
The mansion was ugly, determined to be, dead set on looking unpleasant. But, unlike the crumbling shells that Gordon had passed along the way, the House of Wayne stood strong, jagged and asymmetrical like a great ascension from the underworld, or in Gordon's mind, like a streaking oil spill, that makes long tendrils as it runs, but upward against gravity.
It was not his first attending, he remembered, but the first had not been a time for proper introductions. Then, he had only been vaguely aware of the looming obscurity that was a shade darker than the twilight. He only knew it from the tiny lamps that peered out from small windows, spaced just so they might have been a great gaze from within, ready to receive the new master. Who, Gordon distinctly remembered himself wondering, could heal within these walls? He thought it again now, for daylight, and the concrete knowledge of the manor that came with it did not assuage his doubt.
He was met, finally, by guardians of stone. Two dragons (gargoyles, griffins?) stood at the watch, on either side of the ironwork gate, though they looked less like sentries and more like Bones, his old police shepard, begging for a sweet. And some job they were doing, the gates were open.
On the driver's side, a small alcove had been chipped into the ornate platform that was accommodating a winged custodian. Gordon cranked his window down and smashed the buzzer once, twice, three times with no response. On the forth, he thought he heard a faint crackle from the radio box. For some reason, he felt the need to eyeball over his back and out the passenger side window like a hood about to break and enter, and then he drove inside.
He stood for a long time in the archway, nonplussed by the prestige of the Tudor home, and admiring instead the black Plymouth Volare. It was the only lifeline to real life. It must have dropped out of the sky, Gordon reasoned, trying to maneuver himself away from the task before him. Indeed the car was a refugee in this land. It was parked almost cross ways partway up the drive like it had been discarded suddenly. The policeman's eye noted the unlocked position of the plungers on the driver's side door. On a morning where everything disturbed him, that sense of abandonment and desolation roared back and turned his blood chunky again.
He pushed his cap tightly onto his head, turned back under the arch, and knocked.
The home, if you could call it that, had the look of a museum originally used (might still be) as a grand funeral parlor, or maybe a king had lain in state. He wondered if the Wayne service had taken place at the manor, and though he was suddenly endowed with a strange certainly of it, he drove the notion away.
Gordon felt small in the Marble Hall, surrounded by horses and men in frilly pantaloons who cast the same dumb gaze down upon him. The butler, Pennyworth, must have known this, and despite having arrived unannounced, the Commissioner was welcomed into the Library (offered as a proper noun) to wait. He didn't feel better. The room dwarfed him and he sat small, on a leather couch that squealed, too loudly, into an emptiness that commanded respect for those in repose.
There must have been a couple thousand books in this place. Who would have time to read them all? And then he thought of Bruce Wayne. How old was he now? Gordon had to figure. He was nine when he sat in Gordon's police car. Jim was thirty-eight when he sat upfront. The commissioner blew out a puff of air. It had been nearly thirty years. And in all that time, to Gotham City, Bruce Wayne had been a ghost, barely remembered. He'd have the time.
The kind of wealth he had, at the age it had fallen on him, should have made for a bigger spectacle than this. Gordon had thought when he could not avoid it, that as he approached adulthood, Bruce Wayne would carve out a permanent home in the back of a police car. A poetic tragedy. The 'poor orphan who couldn't help being a bum' wouldn't play when the narcotics and booze ate up his babyface. Maybe he'd hit the big time and do a little, or maybe his ails would land him into Carl Grimsom's pocket and he'd be forced to clean up his act (bastard runs a dry house, have to give them that) or trade his Armani loafers for cement shoes.
But no, Bruce Wayne had gone dark after that night, or so Gordon had thought. To hear the dime rags tell it (in the last printing of the story Gordon recalled, must have been twenty years ago), Bruce Wayne had died with his family. Even on the force, where the death of the Waynes had risen into the annals of police legend, the young heir was sometimes erroneously killed in the story. Sometimes, when it was told, Gordon didn't correct it. It hadn't mattered to a beat cop trying to make his way as he neared what he thought would be his latter and better days. Bruce was no one to James Gordon but a bad night and a blot on a police report that he was just fine leaving (not quite, never truly) in the past. And then Barbara. Then Barbara.
He had been fighting it all morning and now it came. The memory swirled like a liquid fever. Images. Smells. Smell worst of all. He'd never forget the smell of flowery, antiseptic aerosol that never truly covers up the sour afterglow of prolonged suffering. He saw the empty bed, rigid, regulation, and uncaring. They'd let him lie with her while she was still conscious. He saw the indention he'd left behind. but not hers. There had been no trace of her like she'd never been there.
He remembered sleeping. Right there in the chair. The bed had lost its grip. He remembered the pain in his lower back when the nurse had roused him. Not her face so much. That had faded into a nondescript approximation, a fairly major slip for a cop, but he remembered her smile. She was just trying to be pleasant and thought she had good news. Barbara's arrangements had been taken care of. Gordon had been shocked, no say it with the respect it deserves, he had been pissed. And right there, Jim Gordon, tragically unadorned, with little more than a dressing gown and a derby to preserve his dignity, he had chewed her out like she was a rookie who had traded name-tags on a midnight shift.
On her lips had been that name. Bruce Wayne.
Now mostly shame remained. And a foreboding dread, churning nausea that was trying to bid him out the door and were it not for Barbara Gordon, taken before her time, whose ghost had led him here, he would leave without another word.
"Sir." It was Pennyworth. He had a voice that was weary, wavering, and soft, but it refused to give up its clipped discrimination between age and acquiescence.
Gordon nearly leaped to attention. His cap, rustled from its place on his lap nearly clacked onto the floor but for the grace of a quick hand.
The older (but not by much) man seemed to regard Gordon's surprise as a gesture of respect, and nodded, hiding a small twinkle from behind his spectacles. Gordon remembered something about that and pushed it away.
"Mister Wayne is not taking visitors at this time." Alfred Pennyworth was a man who knew how to deliver bad news. He spoke as if he were disappointed by the development. "No offense is intended. He is not seeing anyone, I'm afraid. If this were an official call..."
Gordon was quick to respond. "I understand that this was a bit sudden," He sounded suitably ashamed with his cap in hand, looking like a man pleading a case before a magistrate. Or a man with a collection box. "I tried calling. No one answered."
Pennyworth seemed to consider an answer.
Gordon added dourly. "Did you tell him why I came to see him?"
"Yes, sir. I relayed as much as I understood."
Gordon allowed it. He had rambled his way in and had not at all been clear. "I just wanted to apologize to him." He paused in recognition of what had transpired, and then he added, "I wanted to thank him in person for coming to the service. It was just unexpected."
"Your wife and Master Bruce were close," Alfred nodded. "I tried to convey your confusion."
"I had no idea she kept in contact with him all these years."
"Yes, sir. She was a lovely lady if you don't mind my saying."
"You knew her?" There was an accusatory bark in the question. His cap went back onto his head.
"Only through her correspondence with Master Bruce," the Englishman soothed. "I am afraid that Mister Wayne does not usually take visitors."
Gordon softened, relaxed a little for the first time, then chuckled. His neck chafed. "A guy could go crazy cooped up in here."
And then he chuckled again into an iron silence.