He's been away from Gotham for almost a year now, but the rhythm of the city still sings in his blood. He hears her dark murmur as he jogs along the light-edged streets of Florence, he wakes at night with his heart pounding in tangency to the echoes of shrieking sirens. And always, even as the sunlight streams into his room in the morning, and the quiet murmur of sounds is golden and serene, as far from Gotham as he could ever go, the chant beats in his consciousness.
Deh-shay, deh-shay bah-sah-rah, bah-sah-rah…
Bruce has risen. Far above the choking filth that still layers Gotham, even after eight years of the lowest crime rate the city had ever known.
Victory has defeated you.
Bane's voice mocks him as he stands at his bedroom window. He hadn't just been talking to Batman, Bruce knows now. He stares unseeingly out the window where two pigeons are fighting over a scrap of bread. The elderly woman feeding them laughs and tosses another crust toward them.
Bane had also been speaking to Gotham.
His thoughts turn to his city, as they always do. Bruce relents after a brief struggle, as he always does. How did one go about moving on from a city that had consumed his being for almost his entire life?
That had not only taken him, but forged him, tempered him, created him, given him purpose.
He knows, he knows that he had no right—had never had the right—to demand anything of Gotham. But that knowledge doesn't stop the hurt that runs far deeper than betrayal, that stops just short of bitterness. But he'd trusted his city, trusted her people in their goodness and his naiveté, and they had let him down. Tore themselves down along with it.
Now the true question is, the one that plagues his dreams and twists them into nightmares, is: had the Joker won, after all?
Bruce wants to say no, but he remembers the night the Joker had hung laughing at something only he found funny, the certainty, the sick logic of his madness. Gotham had risen as far as she was able that night. But perhaps…
Perhaps now that she had fallen, she could learn to rise once more.
But without Batman, and without Bruce. He starts to wonder how the people he'd been close to are faring, but he quashes the thought almost brutally. Gotham needs to remain in the abstract, not as Jim Gordon, or John Blake, nor Alfred Pennyworth—except that one moment, that had been right, had been necessary—
He sinks into a chair and tries to shake Gotham from his mind.
As he does every day, even though he knows it is useless.
Bruce Wayne finds that it will take much more than what he is willing to surrender for Gotham to let him go.