By Chris Dee and Myklarcure
The first thing any crimefighter learns is patience. Physical training takes years of disciplined persistence. Collecting evidence with meticulous precision, analyzing it with care, surveillance of suspects, waiting for backup, and all too often, just waiting. Whether it's a madman like Joker, bound to go off at some point in reaction to God-knows-what and there is nothing to do in the meantime but sit and hope it won't be too terrible this time, or a cunning strategist like Ra's al Ghul operating off his own inscrutable timetable, there is always waiting. It was the hardest reality for each new Robin to accept. But Batman himself had a natural composure, a resolved unshakable calm that could out-last any criminal…
Bruce, on the other hand, was finding himself gripped by a strange, foreign sensation, an agitated tension connected to Selina's coming home. He kept checking the grounds cameras, looking for her Jaguar. He knew the route to the Catitat: when she returned, she would show up on the F4 grid first, coming off Country Club Drive, and then E3 and E2 to park in the garage. He knew her car would appear on F4 first, but he kept checking all the D, E, and F cameras. It was irrational. Absurd. Impatient. It was almost Feline log—there she was, F4, right where she should be.
He resisted the urge to follow her progress on the cameras. Instead he gathered his jacket and tie and went upstairs, meeting her at the door. She was puzzled; she hadn't expected him to be there, waiting as she opened the door, and Bruce felt a strange throwback to an early museum encounter. Just like today, he'd known roughly where she would be coming from and when, which made it easy to spot her on approach and move in to intercept. Unlike today, the smile that greeted him was shy rather than naughty. Rather than hiss, she said it was a nice surprise. Rather than scratch his cheek, she kissed it.
"How did it go?" she asked, while he led her back towards the study.
"It was a funeral," Bruce answered simply.
"I would have come," she reminded him.
"There was no need. Dick came along, which was unnecessary but kind of him. It was more important to me that you go to the Catitat today."
She bit her lip. She knew that much. He'd suggested it so pointedly. What she didn't know was—
"Go ahead, ask," Bruce said, noting the lip-bite.
"Why? Why did you want me to go up there?"
"Because the Catitat is something special and private that you made from a very fundamental part of you… and I thought you would need that before we go on with this."
Selina said nothing. She followed silently into the study, to the clock where Bruce stopped and turned. It was his exact position the day he'd returned from the hospital, that fiery hatred in his eyes that blinked out in a second to a dead, soulless void. Today there was no anger in there, and no void – she wasn't sure what it was.
"I know this hasn't been easy for any of you," Bruce said soberly. "I was impossible to be around and wrapped up in my own…" He trailed off and grunted.
Selina smiled and started to answer, but he'd already opened the clock and headed into the cave passage. He must've taken it for granted that she would follow because he'd started talking again.
"Anyway, as hard as I pushed you away, as hard as I tried to explain that I just needed to be left alone so I could handle this, you refused. You and Dick both. It was infuriating, it was frustrating, it chewed at me every step of the way and…
Selina quickly followed down the stairs and across the cave.
"…It was exactly what I needed. So I just wanted to say thank you."
The round table was gone, and Bruce stopped and turned at Workstation One, a series of file folders and other items laid out on the console, arranged neatly in a row.
"I know I don't have to say that… but I want to. Thank you."
Bruce motioned for her to sit, Selina realized the chairs from Workstations One and Two had been turned to face each other, just as they were that day he had Martian Manhunter down here to tell him about the mindwipe. Selina looked curiously from the chairs to the objects on the console, the reality of the scene sinking in as she recognized two of those "other items." A small lead box that contained a kryptonite ring, and a larger one, a mahogany jewelry box with an ornate "W" in a delicate oval, inlaid in gold on the lid. She was looking at the contents of the hologram safe.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" she asked, almost frightened as she stared at the box with the W. Bruce followed her gaze and focused on the box for a moment before answering.
"When my parents were taken from me, my whole world was destroyed. I had to find a way to go on in this new world where nothing would ever be the same again. Alfred was amazing. He did more than keep me going, he gave me whatever I needed without interfering or intruding on what I was going through. And he let me do what I felt I needed to, let me pursue the path I wanted to take.
"The only way I knew to cope with tragedy was that way that I discovered for myself. Until others came along. Dick, Barbara, Tim, even Jean Paul and Jason… anyway. If there's one thing that this whole… incident has brought home for me, it's that I've spent so much time focused on the tragedies, mine and others, on what I lost, that I've periodically lost sight of what I have. Yes, I'm certain I want to do this. Please sit down."
He sat himself and waited. Selina tentatively positioned in front of the second chair, then lowered slowly as if suspecting a boobytrap. Bruce smiled.
He began with the lead box. Since he'd told her about it already, it seemed the easiest way to begin. This time he opened it and actually took out the kryptonite ring as he talked. He found himself mentioning details he hadn't said out loud before.
"Lex Luthor had the ring made originally, and he'd done it for a single purpose: to make a kryptonite fist. To coil all his hate into a blow his enemy could feel. To be able to kill Superman with his bare hands."
It was something Bruce had always understood about the ring, but only now after those insane moments of rage with Edward Vaniel's throat clutched in his own hand did Bruce fully realize why he understood it the way he did.
"There were others Clark could have trusted to keep the ring," he said, his mouth going dry from the realization. "Lois for one, obviously. But the one thing Clark said when he gave it to me, the thing that struck me at the time and that I've always remembered, was that Batman was the only person he could trust to use the ring if it came to that… At the time, I took it at face value, but now, after what happened with Vaniel… I wonder if he sensed something in me that I didn't know myself – that no matter how bad the situation got, I'd know how to use it to take him down without taking him out."
He took a deep breath. A half-hour had passed and they'd only been through one item – the easy one. The one Selina already knew about and that they'd talked about before.
Luckily the next item went faster. A birth certificate and death certificate for Jason Todd. There wasn't much to say about Jason, other than his life was too short. He was rash, impulsive and undisciplined—because he was still a boy. If he'd grown to manhood, there was no telling what potential he might have realized… The one feature he and Bruce had in common, more than any of these others Bruce had brought into his life, was an unquenchable desire to find the answers, a desire untempered by reason, as it happened, which ultimately lead to his death. Bruce had tasted that unreasoning desire during the last few days but unlike Jason had been able to walk away, due in no small part to the people he loved who were there to help him through it. And he knew he would never take that for granted again.
The documents outlining the Ancient Order of St. Dumas didn't take much time either—not as they pertained to Jean Paul Valley and the fleeting role he'd played in Bruce's life. But they touched on a subject that Bruce and Selina had never discussed, his injuries in the fight with Bane and brief abdication of the Bat-mantle. It was the kind of… discussion Bruce wanted to avoid in going through the safe. It could take hours to talk through and would leave them both emotionally exhausted, with a half dozen more items still to come. Already the blood had drained from Selina's face as she saw what the documents were. Already the memories were flooding back for her. Bruce looked at all the items they still had to go through, including the most important at the end, and wondered if he'd been unrealistic. They couldn't possibly get through this in a single session, but spreading it out over days would be torture.
Then something amazing happened, something pure Selina. She handed the papers back without a word—and with a smile. Bruce set them back in their place in the row, and looked back at her astonished.
"I knew there was a reason I didn't like him," she said simply. "Blood will tell."
Bruce's lip twitched as he realized what just happened. Selina's favorite coping mechanism was to take whatever she didn't want to deal with and toss it in her Hellmouth of a closet, slam the door and forget about it. Jean Paul and the Order of Dumas were just metaphorically tossed into the closet behind an old cat-o-nine tails and Whiskers' cat carrier, where she wouldn't have to think about them for a very long time.
Barbara was next, and there Bruce didn't mind spending as much time as it took to fully cover the subject: Barbara Gordon, who had no business becoming Batgirl in the first place. Perhaps the Rogues liked the idea of "groupies" emulating them, but it wasn't a responsibility that Bruce ever wanted and he did everything he could to discourage her. In doing so, he discovered a quality in Barbara that he recognized in himself: she was stubborn. No Robin shared that quality with him, but Jim Gordon's little girl would dig in her heels in the face of all opposition. After the shooting, he saw that stubborn core evolve into a steely determination that was downright inspiring. She'd come dangerously close to dying but unlike someone like Vaniel, who so obviously faced death with fear and panic (no matter how much he tried to disguise that fact), Barbara never lost that inner fire. She had more strength and dignity lying helpless and immobile in a hospital bed than the most powerful heroines in the Justice League at the top of their game.
Then there was Tim. More than once Selina had singled him out as the nicest, sanest, and most well adjusted of the Bat-Clan. Even before she'd known him as Tim, Catwoman had teamed up with his Robin on easier terms than any other hero—and, Bruce noted wryly, she wasn't the only female of dubious allegiances to be 'charmed' that way. There was just something about him, it seemed…
Selina had never heard the details of what happened to Tim's family and she took more time reading those reports than she had looking at any other papers so far: Shortly after Tim became Robin, his parents were kidnapped and poisoned by a villain called Obeah Man. His mother died as a result and his father lapsed into a coma for several months.
"I had no idea," Selina said quietly, handing back the file.
Bruce took the closed folder and stared at it for a moment. He remembered David Vaniel dissecting his initial choice to become a lawyer as a way of striking out at his father, but the way that changed over time and he found motivation within himself. Like the others in his life, Tim had dealt with those devastating tragedies – his parents, Stephanie – but unlike the others, all of Tim's tragedies had struck after he'd taken up the mantle of Robin. Yet despite that fact, Bruce had never once seen or heard Tim question his decision to become Batman's junior partner. Even at his young age, Tim had such strength, intelligence and resolve.
Dick's adoption papers were next, and Bruce opened up more than he had on any documents so far.
"This young boy who had been dealt the same blow I had. I thought that I could help him, try to ease the pain I knew he would have to deal with. I thought I knew what he was going through, but something strange happened – despite our similar tragedies, he was so… alive. He wound up helping me just as much as I helped him."
Selina handed back the papers outlining first Bruce's guardianship and later his adoption of Dick Grayson. The conversation drifted into Dick's tenure as Robin, the night Batman first showed up with that caped child in tow, his first sight of the bullwhip, a fudged log entry after a certain cat-encounter and subsequent Zogger punishment… years later, during Cat-Tales, when it was Nightwing who broke the ice and came to see her at the stage door.
After witnessing the way Edward Vaniel had treated his own son, even on his deathbed, Bruce knew that he would never fall into that trap. Dick had given him the greatest gift that a son could give his father: he'd become his own man but more than that he'd become a good man. And that was a gift that Bruce would cherish the rest of his life.
There was one set of folders left, along with the wooden jewelry box, but Bruce made no move to touch them. Instead he gestured to all the items they'd looked at so far.
"I honestly don't know if it was the detective in me or something else, but I know there is an instinct to understand—or at least to try to understand. I've thought a lot about these people who are so important to me, and tried to uncover what it is about each of them that makes them react so differently to such similar circumstances.
"Please try and understand that, Selina. It was never a desire do harm or hold on to information that would damage them. It's about learning the truth, a deep-seeded need to find the truths that shaped the lives of people I care about. Can you see that?"
"I suppose," she nodded. "It's uniquely you, the detective's instinct to probe, and the focus on tragedy as the crucial happenings that—"
She broke off. Bruce had reached back and slid out a folder that was tucked underneath the final one.
"I had to know the truth," he said, holding it out for her.
Now all I could do was wait. I knew that this had to be done, that she has to know the truth. I owe her that. So now I watched her eyes as she looked at the folder, trying to read her reaction.
I suspect that, ultimately, it will come down to the simplest question: Why? Why did I do it? Why did I delve into her past, into one of the most sacred and painful parts of her life and do it behind her back? And the truth is, I'm not sure I've got a valid enough explanation.
There was Jason, certainly. I knew from the beginning that Jason Todd was a troubled kid, that there were unanswered questions about his past that haunted his every move. When that past resurfaced, when the possibility arose for him to not only find answers but to actually find his real mother, he pursued the opportunity with such a dogged determination that he disregarded his own safety. It was those unanswered questions – and his ravenous need to find the answers so similar to my own– that ultimately lead to his death. I was ten years old when my parents died and there was nothing I could have done to prevent it. But when Jason came into my life, I was a grown man with considerable ability and resources. I could have found the answers to those questions that plagued him. I didn't. And because of that, I failed him. For years, I punished myself. There was nothing as formal as a vow over his little grave, nothing like I'd gone through with my parents. But a part of me did vow that I would never allow someone so crucial to me, someone in that family I had chosen, to be harmed because I didn't have all of the information. I would to be prepared for any eventuality for the ones I loved.
Is that what drove me to find the truth about Selina's parents – to be prepared for any eventuality and to ensure that there was nothing about such a crucial incident in her life that would come back to hurt her or put her in danger?
I don't know. Looking back, there is something telling in the timing of it all: I started pursuing the details of her parents' death not long after that first… Hell Month (as we have all apparently taken to calling it), when she had done so much to bring me out of the personal turmoil I had been suffering. She had opened so many new doors for me, had given me a level of comfort and understanding that I had never had before. So I believe that somewhere deep inside of me, something yearned to return the favor, to give back even a little piece of the comfort and stability that she had given me. And since my parents' deaths were still so fresh in my mind, I suppose I immediately identified her similar situation as a possibility to do that.
I don't know. I know all of the items in that safe are there not just because of the sensitivity of the information, but because of what (and who) they represent. I know that ultimately, it was done out of love, out of a desire to protect and honor her…
But it may have been an incredibly stupid mistake.
"Breathe," Bruce suggested, watching critically as Selina read over the file.
"You…" she began dully. Her hand started shaking as she held the paperwork. The original police report on the car accident that killed her parents, and a page of handwritten notes. Bruce's handwriting—Batman's handwriting actually.
"You researched the accident that killed my…"
"These handwritten notes are—"
"Case notes," he started to explain, "made in the field. There was no reason to transfer them to digital format once I'd found the truth - there was no case… Wait. That's not entirely true… You've hacked the consoles before, found things I've hidden. I didn't want you to find them by accident before I could give you an explanation."
"So they're yours," Selina said slowly, trying to pull a simple answer from his far-too-complicated explanation.
"Mine. Yes," he said, beginning to realize her mental state.
"And…this file," Selina stopped and swallowed. "It seems…"
"It's the original. The copy now in the GCPD's records are the duplicates. It's the same with the police report and supporting files for my parents' shooting."
"Why?" she looked up. "Why would you do this?"
Bruce took a deep breath. There it was. Why? He thought through his prepared explanation: Jason, Hell Month… then he saw that dazed look on her face and realized it was all far too complicated.
"Because I love you," he said simply. "You're important to me in ways I never even knew I needed… And you deserve whatever I can give you. This, this is what I could give."
She nodded, once, and handed the file back slowly.
"Thank you," she managed, finding a trace of her usual voice and manner. She mentally breathed on that spark of cattitude until it produced an actual smile. "You're quite wonderfully strange, you do know that," she said lovingly.
The import of the gesture was beginning to sink in, a whole new level of shock replacing the previous one.
Bruce had returned the folder to its place in the row, but didn't bother to hide it this time. Selina realized it was his own parents' casefile it had been hidden under before, and another wave of realization hit at what he had done and how he apparently thought of her.
He held out his own parents' casefile only to confirm what he'd said earlier, they were original documents rather than photocopies.
"You may appreciate this," he graveled seriously. "Getting that was my first break in."
He didn't open the file or hand it to her as he had the others. They had been over that case enough in the previous days. Plus, as Bruce pointed out (with something approaching self-deprecating humor), there was nothing to learn from the police report that Selina didn't know long ago from hearing Bruce awake from his nightmare every morning at 5 a.m.
That left only the jewelry box. Mahogany, inlaid with a gold W on the lid, a W inside an oval just like his Bat-emblem. The way he opened that lid, the reverence, and the look on his face as he looked inside.
In the beginning, I told myself I would never be another acolyte at his temple of loss. I felt myself breaking that promise now. This is what he had left of them. These people he loved, this is what he had left. That broken, incomplete string of pearls, a well-worn leather wallet with the initials TW monogrammed in the corner and dark stain…
This is why the world had Batman. The world might be a better place for it. But that look on Bruce's face.
Then something strange happened. A shift away from the loss, to the joy that had gone before…a pair of wedding bands and a remarkably beautiful engagement ring… and a worn, rabbit-eared photograph of Thomas and Martha Wayne with an adorable 8-year-old Bruce at one of those rustic New England marinas.
The pearls and the wallet weren't all that was left of them. Bruce was.
© 2007, Chris Dee
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Cat-Tales will christen their new chatroom with a live chat
with Chris Dee and MyklarCure about this story.
See author page for details.
Edward Nigma has had enough of Gotham.
And really, who can blame him?
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