Rachel Dawes


1
grief


Longtime residents called it autumn swirls: when summer was about to die and the temperature began to fall, the winds blowing in from the west would run into the barriers of the City's towers, causing things caught in the backdraft to tumble wildly in the air. Paper and trash picked up from the streets, mixed in with colorful leaves blown in from the suburbs.

Some of the leaves blowing through Gotham that early Saturday afternoon had come from the neatly trimmed lawns in Easterville, a small suburb just east of the Pallisades that was far enough from Gotham to present an image of ineffable normality, but close enough to the Dark City that an outside observer could chart its indirect effects on the men and women living there as they went about their daily lives. Despite their friendly demeanors and warm greetings to each other, as the day went on they seemed to lose a step, as if something invisible was holding them back, making them hesitate. Only as the daylight dimmed and the night rose to ascendancy did their motions quicken, perhaps conscious of the need to settle affairs and retreat to the safety of their homes before the dark tide washed over them.

But that was for later; at present, the day couldn't be any more perfect. Here and there children played in the front lawns of Easterville's houses while their parents maintained a watchful eye on their every moves. Occasionally a car or truck would move down the straight and narrow streets. One pulling around the corner took its time, carefully navigating roads a half-size too small for it.

The black sedan pulled up to a small white house perched on a slight hill. From the driver side a kindly old man, his white hair whipped about by the winds, got out and opened the left rear door. Another man, younger, stepped out and squinted into the bright sun. His black curls did not sway at all; the wind and the unseen shroud parted ways for him, as if knowing they could not weigh him down. Clothed in a charcoal suit, he walked up the incline to the front door of the house, moving at a pace that was unhurried but unhindered, as if gravity or fear could not slow him.

The man's hand reached for the doorbell, then froze in midair. He then knocked, three times. Some moments later, the door opened. A small middle-aged woman, her hair flecked with grey, stood there. Her eyes were glazy and distant, looking at him, but not seeing at first.

She freed herself from her prison of grief: "Bruce." Then old reflexes kicked in. "Forgive me, Mister Wayne—"

"—No, please. I'm so sorry—"

With those words the woman broke down completely. She began to weep; he took her, holding her tightly. He didn't even try to keep his own eyes from tearing up. They both sniffed simultaneously, and stepped away. Inside, he saw other figures, clothed in black, standing to greet him. It was a reaction to his station that he always hated, but did not react.

"Please, come in."

Mrs. Dawes reentered the house, and Bruce Wayne and Alfred followed her inside.


The funeral was the next day. Unlike yesterday the skies were now cloudy, with a damp vibe to the air that hinted of coming rain.

Bruce Wayne stood a fair distance from the family, doing his best to be inconspicious. Unlike at the memorial service last night, he was more successful, but perhaps that was only because yesterday was the occasion where Rachel was mourned as a casualty of the Joker's rampage, as so many other public servants of Gotham City had been. Hundreds had filled the pews of St. Francis' Cathedral in Gotham City, among them many public officials paying dues to a fallen colleague.

During that long night, it was hard to look at her parents, and harder to look at the casket with a cheery photo of Rachel perched atop it. Hardest of all was crafting and speaking the very short memorandum he'd been asked to say. Bruce kept it completely professional, sparing only a sentence referring to their childhood connections, then focusing entirely on her public-minded spirit, her bravery during the attack on Gotham by the League of Shadows (for everyone's benefit, the less said of her brief stint as DA and the Green Dawn incident which ended it, the better). If he were a more loquacious man, he could have said tomes of what he really felt. But those thoughts would go with him to his grave.

Today was for close friends and immediate family. Although there was nothing of the public spectacle and attention of yesterday, it was even more uncomfortable for Bruce, for his mere presence could conceivably hint at a deeper connection to her than was safe for everyone involved. Of course, her parents vigorously insisted he be here, but after all that had happened, all that led up to her death, he almost decided to turn up the obnoxious playboy image and decline. It had almost led to a shouting match with Alfred; in the end, the hot look of contempt on his face when he tried to explain why it would be better for him not to come had shamed him into relenting. God, I hope I never get him upset at me like that again.

Then Bruce realized he had precious few people left in his life now who could get to him like that. That bitter realization removed all doubts.

Still, he felt nervous. The police had discretely secured the area, but they were all achingly vulnerable. If anything happens to her family or friends… Bruce's eyes darted about to the surroundings, watching for anything out of the ordinary. But so far the day had went by…well was the wrong word. Nothing bad, so far. Maybe that's all I can hope for these days.

The priest had finished saying his words. He had not paid close attention; he only hoped they would give Rachel's loved ones comfort. He had no expectation they would have such effect with him. Four pallbearers, one of them her father, Tanner, another a college friend, and two cousins, lowered her casket into the grave. Try as he might, he could not help but remember the police had recovered little if any of her remains. Flower in hand, he got in line to pay final respects. When he tossed the white lily in, he did not look inside.

After it was over, people began to leave, heading for the wake being held in a small conference hall nearby. Although Bruce did not want to come to the funeral at first, having done so he felt a strange compulsion to go to the wake. This would be the last time he would get a chance to see Rachel's closest associates up close—in a way, he hoped it would give him a chance to know Rachel a little better.

In the year and change since coming back to Gotham, Bruce had gone some distance towards reacquainting himself with Rachel. Still, it was painfully obvious there was a lot about her that he didn't know, and he had disciplined himself from using his new detective skills from trying to learn any more. Fortunately, Alfred had been an invaluable resource, for he had maintained off-and-on contacts with her in his absence. More importantly, Bruce realized that Alfred knew a lot about Rachel from their days growing up, memories that were hazy from age and the overwhelming tragedy which had blotted out so much else from that period of his life. In the dark days since Rachel's death, one of the only sources of comfort was Alfred painstakingly helping to fill in the gaps.

In the distance he saw the still-massive form of Clinton Polawski, ill-fitting in his suit, closely-cropped red hair an unspoken concession to advancing baldness. Many years ago, to be this close to him in the same room would have provoked violence; now, with so many years and events between them, it seemed almost ridiculous that they had fought so. Although if I didn't beat him up, perhaps I never would have become what I am doomed to be...

Bemused by the memories of his turbulent adolescence, he was almost caught unawares by an attractive, serious blond woman walking up to him. "Hello, Mister Wayne," she said to him.

"Hi, Miss… Teasdale, is it?" The woman nodded. Dara Teasdale was Rachel's closest friend from Gotham Law School and a corporate attorney with the Davidson International Group. She was one of the three people besides himself and her cousin Emily to give eulogies.

"We wanted to thank you for your kind words yesterday." She gestured to a large group of young men and women speaking in the distance, all attractive and elegantly-dressed. Rachel's friends from college and law school. None of them were familiar.

"What, that?" Bruce said, unable to hide an unexpected annoyance. The words spilled out of him: "It was terrible, I should have worked on it more." Shut up! What are you doing? Don't make it about yourself! He tried not to fidget.

Teasdale seemed taken aback, but quickly recovered. "No, no, Mister Wayne, not at all! First, you've probably known her longer than anyone else. And besides, we all appreciate you taking the time to pay your respects."

"Yeah, uh, thanks." She was right; Bruce could remember as far back as when he was six, meeting Rachel for the first time. But I didn't really know her that well, do I? "What was she like, in law school?"

Dara sighed, then said: "Kinda standoffish, in the beginning. You know, I was very surprised when I began to know her she didn't want to be a lawyer at first."

"I know, she wanted to be a psychiatrist." Bruce winced inwardly at the memory of that… strained conversation from the end of high school.

Teasdale was very surprised. "Right, wow, you knew that?"

"Just something I picked up from a professional introduction," he said hurriedly.

"Yeah, well, she was very calm, but she was unbelievably passionate about law and helping people," Dara said. "Top student of course, she had her choice of careers with the big firms in Gotham, New York, DC." Bruce nodded, showing no reaction; that was another sore point, although much more with Rachel's father.

"Tell me about her personal side," Bruce said with ill-concealed urgency.

Dara sniffed. "That's the thing. She seemed reserved at first, but when you got to know her, she was very friendly—always loyal." Bruce tried not to sniff himself. "If you were stressed or worried about something, she'd always do something on her own initiative, like have dinner delivered or your laundry done." She paused. "When I was having trouble with Henry, she set things up so we could have time together alone in the apartment one weekend. Took care of everything." She paused again. "I really miss her," she breathed.

"Yeah, it's a shame." Dara looked at him, puzzled; perhaps she did not expect such a perfunctory expression of grief. Did Rachel ever tell her about us? He personally doubted it, but now he wondered. In any case, it was safer for him—and her—if she didn't suspect.

Dara continued: "She always spoke highly of you, Mister Wayne. If you ever want to talk about things, just give me a call. Take care." She gave him her business card, shook his hand, and walked away in a bare hurry. Bruce was even more suspicious now. Maybe Rachel did hint about us? Or maybe she's just networking and trying to build connections for her firm. He chided himself for his cynical outtake. Still, his heart had warmed to hear the story Dara had told. Rachel always went the extra mile to help people in need.

Suddenly someone slapped him in the back; he almost threw a punch on reflex. "Hey, Bruce," a slightly slurred voice said. He relaxed and turned about.

"Hello Mister Dawes," Bruce said to Rachel's father, Tanner Dawes. He was somewhat shorter than him, his face weathered and tough, with thin sandy hair. Rachel had his general facial structure, which had become clear to Bruce only after repeated viewings. "How are you coping, sir?"

"Terribly," he said sourly in a clipped New England accent. His face had a strange expression: part grief, part anger, part frustration. "Her mother's in denial, but facts are facts."

"Um," Bruce said noncommittally. He knew that Rachel's parents had separated not long after she was born, and that Rachel's relationship with her father ever since had been… 'anxious' was her word for it.

The drink in his hand was a reminder of what had led to her less-than-happy family life. "May I ask you something, man to man," he whispered.

"Of course."

Tanner came close to him, a sudden unmistakable menace in his demeanor. "Just tell me one thing: after you came back, did Rachel ever ask you for a position at Wayne Enterprises, and if so, did you say no?"

Bruce tensed; all of a sudden, he was his shadow persona. "No and no," he said harshly, his voice and eyes suddenly hard.

Perhaps intimidated by the vibe Bruce was giving off, Tanner's hard gaze eased. Backing off slightly, he said: "Alright, ok, I believe you." His eyes narrowed again. "If I didn't, I don't care how rich you are, you'd be one sorry son-of-a-bitch." He fell silent; when he resumed speaking, his voice was despondent. "I kept telling her not to take up a fool's errand, to take care of business and not try to save the world," he said gloomily. "Now it's too late." He looked down at his drink. "Sometimes, you only get one chance, and if you don't take it…" His voice fell off into indistinct noise. "That's what happened with Anne," he mumbled. "With Rachel. I told her, you gotta grab it when you can, but she never listened. She didn't take it…" No longer paying attention to Bruce, he shuffled away, shaking his head.

Bruce was tempted to get a drink himself; his angry words only hinted at the long, painful relationship between Rachel and her father—and himself. Moreover, he knew that if Tanner knew the truth of his feelings for Rachel, far from being a comfort to him, they would have provoked a furious, deadly rage. If you loved her, he would scream, why didn't you take her away from her foolish choice of career? And if he had known about his real persona, it would be even worse: Why didn't you save her? A question that would haunt Bruce to his dying day.

Sometimes, you only get one chance… Now Bruce was depressed, an all-too familiar feeling these days. Quietly, he slipped away.




It was dark outside as Alfred drove Bruce Wayne back to the Manor. The structure was not yet fully complete, but enough parts had been finished and furnished that they could leave the apartment in the City behind. Just as well, Alfred though gloomily. Too many bad memories there. Considering Bruce's unhappy life in Wayne Manor since the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne, that was saying something—something not good.

"Will you be going out tonight, sir?"

From behind, Bruce Wayne chuckled softly. "Little late to go out clubbing."

His stab at humor relieved Alfred. "Perhaps, sir. But not too late to go out 'clubbing' someone, someone who deserves it," he said wolfishly.

Bruce did not respond at first. "What's the use," he said quietly.

Resisting a sigh, once more Alfred tried to lift his spirits. "You make a difference, sir."

"And every night, what do I have to come back to, after saving a world that hates me?" The way he said those words was not angry, or emotional. On the contrary, he seemed reserved, tentative… defeated?

Alfred did not hesitate. "Your legacy, sir. The one everyone sees, and the one everyone knows about."

"All things come to an end," Bruce said curtly. "Even legacies die."

"Your legacy… the Wayne's legacy, will endure forever, sir. That's the truth of great symbols such as yourself."

"Maybe," Bruce said, his voice sounding infinitely weary. "But the day is coming—I hope it doesn't come forever, but it's coming—when you will no longer be by my side. You and I both know you're the real linchpin behind it all."

"Hmph." Despite the humorous remark, Alfred considered it an affront to be reminded so brusquely of his own mortality. That's not something an English gentleman brings up in civilized conversation. Of course, he had chosen a different path long ago… and Bruce Wayne, deep down, was not a gentleman. I love him like a son, but sometimes he's very much a rough diamond. Nevertheless, he tried to be positive. "You're strong, sir, stronger than anyone I know. You won't need me to carry on the Wayne legacy."

There was no reply. Alfred looked back; Bruce's eyes were closed. Alfred accepted his nonresponse and continued to drive in silence. Minutes later, Bruce spoke: "Unfortunately, there is something I cannot do alone, no matter how strong I am." Glancing back, Bruce had opened his eyes and was smiling sadly at Alfred. At that moment, Bruce looked old beyond his years.

Not wanting to know, Alfred ventured: "What's that, sir?"

There was a terrifying finality to Bruce's voice as he answered, so softly he was barely audible: "Because I let Rachel die, one day in the future… the Wayne's legacy will die with me as well." Stunned by the midnight import of his words, his deathly calm acceptance of the possible extinction of his line, there was simply nothing Alfred could say.

He drove back to Wayne Manor without saying a word, each man locked inside a silent prison of his own thoughts.