Gotham Tales: Questions and Prayers

By C.W. Blaine (darth_yoshi@yahoo.com)

DISCLAIMER: Batman, Zauriel and all other characters and situations used in this story are ©2001 by DC Comics Inc. and are used without permission for fan-related, non-profit entertainment only. This original work of fiction is ©2001 by C.W. Blaine and may not be reproduced, archived or posted without the express permission of the author.

"I beg your pardon, Batman," Zauriel began as he stepped a little closer to the back of the Caped Crusader, "but I have a question that I believe only you can answer."

The Dark Knight slowly turned away from the Watchtower monitor, which was displaying news footage of the clean-up efforts in New York City. The work had been progressing steadily for several weeks, ever since terrorists had decided to ram two airliners into the twin towers of the World Trade Center. The resulting explosions and fires had brought the towers down, killing some 5,000 people.

Gotham City, an urban sprawl not so unlike New York, had suffered through a devastating earthquake only a few years before, so the Batman was no stranger to such sites. Yet, the earthquake had been a natural event, something beyond the hand or will of man to control. The events of September 11, 2001, were no random occurrence and that was what tainted them with specter of evil.

The Batman did not acknowledge the other being, but Zauriel continued undaunted. He was an angel, a being who professed to living in Heaven and serving what he called the Presence. Other called this being God, some Jehovah and others Allah. It seemed almost comical that a being with such a connection to the Creator would refer to Him in such simple way. "I have noticed that, recently, you have shunned my presence. While I realize I am only a reserve member of the Justice League now, I do find it informative to spend time here getting to know all of you. Spending centuries as a Guardian Angel has given me a unique perspective on the human mannerism. From yours, it seems that I have offended you in some way."

"No, that's not it," Batman said, turning back around. The self-appointed protector of Gotham City was a man of few words, and none of those were ever used to explain his feelings to anyone. Not to Nightwing. Not to Commissioner Gordon. Not to Superman.

Certainly not to an angel who wanted to play human.

While most of the populace discounted Zauriel's claim to be a real angel (in a world of Superman and Wonder Woman, who could blame them?), it was a fact that the other members of the Justice League had to accept. Zauriel had been charged with the sacred duties of protecting those singled out by the Presence as being special or worthy of such attention. He had failed when he had fallen in love with a woman he was bound by oath and duty to protect. Stripped of his rank and status, he was sent to live on the mortal plane as a disgraced angel.

Discovering a plot by a renegade angel to try and take control of Heaven, Zauriel convinced the Justice League to aid him in saving, literally, all of existence. When they had won, the angelic authorities commissioned him with the task of living among the so-called super-heroes and try to serve as a liaison between them and Heaven.

Zauriel soon found he was not cut out to be a very good super-hero and after a brief tour of duty with the Justice League, he began to travel the world, spending time with different heroes, from the mightiest to the short- tempered. Recently, he had been spending much of his time in the Watchtower, the Justice League headquarters on the moon. As a reserve member in good standing, he was welcomed with a smile by all except Batman.

Zauriel knew the Batman's story, as there were no secrets in Heaven, and the sad tale of Bruce Wayne had made more than one angel weep upon hearing it. After watching his parents die from a mugger's gun before his eyes, Bruce Wayne had dedicated his life to protecting the defenseless. In a way, both he and the Batman were alike, guardians of the weak. Zauriel performed his work out of love, love for the life that the Presence had put on this planet.on all planets. Batman did it from hate, hate for those who sought to place themselves above the rule of law.

Even now, so many months after the attacks, Zauriel could feel the anger bubbling just below the surface of the Batman's psyche. Mental images flashed through the Batman's mind, some so horrible that even Zauriel, who had more than once glimpsed the fires of the underworld, had to suppress a shudder.

"Perhaps you would like to talk about what is on the monitor?" Zauriel asked.

"No."

Zauriel nodded and laid a hand on his sheathed sword. He started to drum the hilt, a habit he had recently begun. "Was the devastation in Gotham City much like that on the monitor?"

"Yes."

Scratching his head, Zauriel searched his memory, which went back to times before man was even a thought, for some experience dealing with a more difficult being. He found no answers. Sighing, he started to turn when the Batman, without provocation, spoke. "Where is God?"

Zauriel's eyes widened in surprise. "He is where He is always at.that is all I can tell you."

"Why?"

"Because that is all I know." He stepped a little closer, sensing that something was breaking behind the cowl of the Batman. For everything that he tried to be, for all of his training and experience, the Batman was the one thing that made so many special.

He was human.

"I know that many people have asked where the Presence was on this day and how could such a thing happen to innocent people? I cannot answer such things; not because I refuse to, but because I simply can not."

The Batman did not turn. "I thought you talked to God."

"Of course I talk to the Presence, just as many others do. That's not the same thing as knowing what the Plan is."

"The Plan?" Batman asked.

"Surely you can appreciate that there is a master Plan, a grand design. Just as a man marries and has a plan for a family, so does the Presence have a Plan for creation."

Slowly, the Batman turned and stared coldly into the gray eyes of the angel. "Why does His 'Plan' have to involve so many innocent people dying? Why do good people suffer so much? Even with the things I've seen, from power rings to magic lassos and the brave people who command them, the innocent still bleed for the guilty! Is that right?"

Zauriel shrugged. "If you ask my opinion, then my answer is no. I am a member of the War Host of Heaven itself.my first duty is to punish the wicked. If you are asking for what I know as someone who has felt the warm touch of the Presence, then I have to tell you there is no right or wrong, there simply is. In the end, you all die; it is just that you want to rate it as either being good or evil.

"I have had to, more than once, watch as those I am charged with protecting, must eventually succumb to the end. It is difficult, but I am reassured that they are beginning a journey that I cannot follow on, though I wish I could. Like Moses before the Promised Land, I can peer to where the soul goes after the physical life, but as befitting my angelic status, I may not go there."

Zauriel could see that his explanation was not helping and he paused to collect his thoughts, all the while thrumming on his sword hilt. "I know that sometimes it is difficult to try and understand."

"No, you don't know and that's the problem. Maybe you think its nice to come down out of Heaven and mingle with us primates, but in reality, you have no clue what its like to face a human tragedy. You were created from thin air for all intents and purposes. You don't experience things the way we do, don't understand the passions we feel." Batman pointed a gauntleted finger at Zauriel's chest. "What do you know about loss, angel?"

It was Batman's turn to be surprised as Zauriel's eyes turned as black as the darkest night. "I watched as Michael threw those who were once my allies and brothers into the Pit after I saw them try to bring down that which I loved the most. Do not presume, mortal, to judge my passions or emotions, for I find you lacking in ability. I know pain, just as you do and it pains me when I think of those events that transpired on September 11th. Even I find myself, at times when my faith is lacking, wondering why."

Zauriel took a step back and slowly, his eyes returned to their normal monotone shade. "I cannot answer your questions, but neither can you. What we must do is trust that all will be made right. The Presence does not turn His back on you; He allows you the freedom of choice. Like a doting parent, He has tried to teach you a way of life that brings no sorrow or pain, yet there are those who would reject those ideals. Some even try to pervert His message into a mantra of war."

"That doesn't explain a damn thing!" Batman snapped, his characteristic solemn façade replaced with just a hint of the black anger deep in his heart. "Maybe I don't like the idea of hoping everything will turn out okay; what is the purpose of having children if you don't protect them?"

"Tell me, Bruce," Zauriel said, using the Batman's real name. There were no secrets within the current membership. "Do you follow Richard around the streets of Bludhaven, or do you allow him to make his own choices and live his own life?"

Batman said nothing, a sudden calm draping over him as easily as his cape. He indicated the monitor and the scene being played out. "So, I'm supposed to have faith that all of this has a purpose, some divine meaning that I can't possibly comprehend? That's not good enough. If God is good, then He shouldn't have let this happen."

"Just like He shouldn't have allowed your parents to die?"

Batman said nothing, the emotions and dark thoughts playing out in the dead eyes behind the cowl. Zauriel continued unabated. "Isn't that what this is about, really? I'm not trying to say that what has happened isn't a tragedy, but for you in particular.I can sense it like a cancer on your soul."

"I.don't.want.to.talk.about.it," the Batman said with great difficulty. His bottom lip was trembling and his will to control his emotions was almost palatable.

"Yes, that's the portrait you hold up to everyone, the brave lone knight roaming the darkest corners of life.but on the inside, you're still the eight-year old boy screaming in vain as you watched everyone you loved crumble."

"Where was God then?"

"And you asked Him that, didn't you, that stormy night before your parents grave, when you swore you would do something to avenge them.you asked Him to tell you why."

As the mental walls slowly began to crumble, the Batman laid a hand on the back of the chair before the monitor station. "But I never got an answer.so I formulated my own. God stopped caring, if He ever did. We have to rely on ourselves."

"You don't really believe that, Bruce," Zauriel said. "Up until your parents' deaths, you were a devout Christian."

Batman chuckled, an odd sight even for angel. "My mother was Catholic and my father, in order to marry her, began the slow process of conversion. He was raised as a Baptist.southern Baptist. I can only imagine my grandparent's shock when my father started carrying a catechism with him. Mother ensured I went to Mass at least twice a week. After they died."

"Yes," Zauriel said, his head bowed as a sign of respect. "Your parents were good people, and I don't say that merely because of their religious practices. No, they had a strong love for each other. Your father died protecting your mother.is there no greater sign of love. When you think of how they lived, does it not warm your heart?"

"That's the point.is it right that two good people die so that one bad one profits from it? What about the collateral damage? What would my life be like if my parents had lived?"

"Our argument is circular," the angel said with resolve and a sigh. He had long since stopped strumming his hilt. "Because I am not mortal.because I will not evolve past this form the Presence has chosen for me, I cannot dwell on death. It is meaningless to me. We of the angelic hosts celebrate life, but mortals concentrate on nothing but death." He moved closer and put a single finger on the monitor. "As I said before, everything dies and everything, from the largest galaxy to the smallest atom, has a purpose."

Batman walked over to the small coffee maker that Green Lantern had installed for monitor duty and poured himself a cup, adding non-dairy creamer to it. "I'm sorry," he finally said. "I shouldn't take out my frustrations on you or criticize your beliefs. Just because I lost my faith in a higher good doesn't mean my opinion is the right one."

As he walked back over, Zauriel turned away from the monitor. He knew he had reached the mortal soul in the Batman's costume for only a moment, and that soul was crying for compassion.for release. "Tell me, Batman, did you happen to watch the towers fall?"

Batman took a sip. There was a tremor in his radiance, the energy field that holds the soul in the mortal coils. "Yes."

"I bet with all of your computers in the Batcave, you've gone over every piece of footage over and over again. A lesser man could not stand to watch it so.objectively." Batman said nothing and Zauriel got the distinct impression he was being ignored. "It's not easy watching so many people die, is it? It's one thing to come upon a dead body.you've done that plenty of times.but seeing all of those poor souls pass on."

Batman slammed the coffee cup down and it shattered along with his resolve. As the coffee flowed freely onto the floor, so did his words come from his mouth. "We're supposed to be heroes. We've stopped alien invasions.and here we've let a.criminal.commit mass murder in front of our eyes." Behind the mask, wetness was forming in the Batman's eyes. "I'm only human, and despite everything, I suppose I believed that so long as I kept fighting the good fight, someone or something would help keep things.in perspective. I know the horror that those people felt."

Zauriel did not touch him, at least not physically. Instead, he escalated the brilliance of his own radiance, touching the Batman on a spiritual level. "And I can tell you that the Presence knows your pain, for your pain is His pain. Do you not think that He also is saddened by these events? I assure that all of Heaven sings a mournful song right now, knowing that so much joy has been torn from this world. "

Batman nodded and reached up to push back his cowl. The handsome features of Bruce Wayne seemed so childlike as he faced one of his many inner demons. "I don't know what to do in this situation. For the first time in my career as the Batman, I'm questioning if I'm doing the right thing. I don't like that feeling."

"No being does. When the Morning Star rebelled against the Presence, I was at a loss of what to do at first. These were my brothers, my kin, and yet I was being told to raise my sword in anger against them and cast them from Paradise. Never before that or since has such a command come down and, sadly, I did question the wisdom of it. Afterwards, I wondered about many things as the Guardians were formed to protect mortals from the designs of hell."

Batman looked down at the puddle of cooling coffee on the floor. "So what did you do?"

Zauriel smiled and turned around. Without looking back, he called to the Batman. "I prayed."

After cleaning up the mess he had made, including dismantling the monitor station keyboard, the Batman finally sat down to ponder his conversation with the angel. He remembered, briefly, the initial shock of when he realized his parents were dead and it wasn't a dream, and then he remembered the cold feeling that had crept up his spine on September 11th.

Certainly, they were two entirely different events, but he could not deny the overwhelming sadness that enveloped him and seemed to follow him everywhere he went. As more and more evidence mounted, showing him how simple it had been for the entire thing to be pulled off, he felt foolish and childlike. He ascertained that many people were feeling the same thing throughout the world.

He thought about the firefighters and the policemen, who had died doing their job, died pursuing their passion to preserve human life and for a moment, he remembered the sacrifice of so many other costumed heroes in other situations: Barry Allen, the Crimson Avenger, the original Hourman, Dr, Mid-Nite and Atom, Tomorrow Woman and so many others.

A single tear began to fall down his cheek as he realized that in a single moment, that all of those fallen heroes, costumed and uniformed, known and unknown, reminded him so much of his father. He could still see his father, undaunted, leaping to his mother's defense and dying for the act.

No regrets. No tears. No doubt of what he was doing.

Bruce Wayne wondered if he would have the same courage if the time ever came. He reached into a rear pouch on his utility belt and pulled out a rosary. It was a simple one, not the expensive kind you would expect a wealthy woman to have. The truth was that his mother had made it herself and presented it to him on his eighth birthday. It was the only thing he carried with him at all times, whether he was Bruce Wayne or the Batman.

It had been well over two decades since he had held it with reverence. Normally, he would simply clutch it and try to squeeze some memory of his mother out of it. Tonight, in a cold metallic room on the moon, he held it with delicate fingers.

"Our Father, who art in Heaven."

The Batman finished explaining the status of the Watchtower to the Atom and without another word, headed off to the teleporter that would take him back to Gotham City. As he got there, he was not surprised to see the team's resident angel standing there, his face betraying no emotion. "I suppose you know what I did last night," Batman said, stopping in front of Zauriel.

"I heard something about it. News travels fast where I'm from. Tell me, do you feel any better.do you feel clear?"

Batman stepped into the teleporter. "If you want the truth, I don't feel any different. I thought I would feel closer to God."

"Who ever said you were that far away from Him?"

Before Batman could reply, Zauriel activated the teleporter and sent the Batman back to the world of the living.