I don't own Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, or any of the characters or plots found within the movies. Eleanor Black, her family and backstory, and all the plot points that are not from the movie are mine. The fic is rated for language and violence. It is a rewrite and reorganization of my two previous Nolan-verse fics "Superhero's Confidante" and "Chances Are." It will go through all three movies in the trilogy and feature time from before and after as well.
In the Shadow of the Bat
One year since Bruce left Gotham.
Six years before the Batman.
I was pretty sure my eyes were playing tricks on me. I could not be seeing what I was seeing. Not here.
I was in a dimly lit pub, halfway across the world, and it had been over a year since he'd vanished from Gotham.
But there he was.
Shocking the hell out of me and making me spit beer down the front of my shirt.
I mopped up the spill as I studied him, looking for anything to tell me it wasn't him. But my brain wasn't letting up. It was him. I'd never been very good at fooling myself.
He looked like he'd had a hard year. A very hard year. He was much thinner than I remembered, though I could see muscles working in his arms and neck as he shifted back and forth in front of the man he was talking to. His brown hair hung long and limp around sunken cheeks darkened with several days' worth of scruff, and his skin was tanned and rough from exposure to various sorts of weather. He didn't look like the billionaire's son I'd grown up around, and he didn't look like the university dropout I'd seen a year ago, before attending the trial of his parents' murderer. There was something new, different in his eyes, in the way he held himself. He didn't look like himself, but there was no question. It was him.
It was Bruce Wayne.
I caught myself smiling. I blinked a few times, pinched my arm hard to see if I was imagining him sitting at the bar. I'd been away from Gotham a long time, almost six weeks. Maybe I was homesick? Would that make me imagine my oldest friend? But why would I be imagining him looking so different from the last time I'd seen him? I closed my eyes and shook my head, attempting to get rid of the apparition.
When I opened my eyes, he was still there and he was moving towards the door.
It was really him.
Without really thinking, I slid out of the small booth, dropped some money on the table, and followed him, pulling my leather jacket on as I moved and patting my pockets to make sure everything was in place.
Outside, the noise and closeness of the packed bar gave way to a windy and warm night. It wasn't silent, but it was much quieter than the pub. I could smell rain on the air, hear thunder in the distance. Like Gotham, London was bright, even at night, lit by the dull orangey glow from the street lights and reflected light. It was easy to keep eyes on Bruce, to follow his path through a nearly deserted are of the city, even though he was moving quickly, with determination, and I was having a hard time catching up with him. I would have called out, but my voice seemed lost somewhere between my brain and my lips.
I needn't have concerned myself with getting his attention.
He turned a corner several blocks beyond the pub and I momentarily lost sight of him. I hurried to follow, but he was nowhere to be seen. I stopped, wondered if I'd imagined him after all, if I was losing my mind. The silence and stillness hummed in my ears, interrupted by a clap of thunder.
I sighed, made to turn back.
And then someone shoved me into the wall of the nearby building, brick scraping my neck and digging into my shoulders as an arm pressed tight against my throat. My vision quickly started to blur, black spots dancing across my eyes, and I coughed as I tried to get a breath. My chest was beginning to ache. I clawed at the arm against my neck, wishing I could reach bare skin to do some damage. I tried to scream, to call for help, but the words wouldn't come.
"Why are you following me?"
I gasped, coughed, kept clawing at the arm. It was him! That was his voice! I hadn't been hallucinating! Even though I was being strangled, I was happy. It was probably the most bizarre feeling I had ever experienced.
The pressure against my windpipe lessened enough to allow me to speak but not to move. I wrapped my hands around his arm and made myself smile, though the expression probably looked a little strained and I wasn't even sure he could see it in the gloom. A car went by, its headlights illuminating the alley, street, whatever it was we were on, and I heard a minute noise that might have been a gasp. It was hard to tell past the rushing of blood in my ears.
He stepped closer, his arm falling away from my neck, the details of his face resolving in a patch of dim light. His hazel eyes were wide, surprised. I let go and sucked in a deep breath, coughing on the exhale. I doubled over, the muscles of my abdomen twitching painfully as I propped myself up with hands on my knees.
"Nice to see you too Bruce," I choked out.
"Eleanor." His voice was full of disbelief.
I straightened and smiled again, hoping the gesture looked more genuine. He grabbed my forearm, supporting me as I began to cough again, and I wrapped my fingers around his arm in return, leaning into that support. It felt good to be able to touch him, to know he was real. I felt tears pressing at my eyes and I wasn't sure if they were from lack of air or relief at seeing him and I wasn't sure it mattered. When the coughing fit passed, I stood up and leaned against the wall. I was smiling again. My eyes were watering.
Thunder cracked overhead and the area was momentarily bright as daylight as lightning lit the sky.
"What are you doing here?" he asked.
"Well, aside from getting my windpipe crushed by you, I've been exploring jolly old England. I just graduated and this is my celebration."
"You were following me."
He said it like I should have expected to be attacked. Maybe I should have, maybe I should have called out, but I couldn't help but roll my eyes. "I was a little surprised to see you; caught me off guard. I didn't exactly stop to think it through. You were leaving the pub and I didn't want to lose sight of you. I thought I was hallucinating. It's been over a year, Bruce." I shrugged with one shoulder, tried to appear nonchalant.
Something passed over Bruce's face, but it was gone in a second and his face was blank, unreadable. He'd always been good at hiding what he was feeling, even before his parents had been murdered. It usually made having a conversation difficult. It had always made being his friend a challenge. "I'm sorry," he said after a moment. His face transformed with those two words and I knew they were genuine. He looked… almost vulnerable. "It's been a long year."
I waved it off. "I'll be fine. Maybe a little bruised, but I'll survive."
He opened his mouth to say something, but the storm chose that moment to break. Thunder rumbled loudly again, vibrating the glass in the old building behind me, and chill rain began to pour down, instantly soaking through my shirt beneath my unzipped jacket. My jeans began to stick to my skin. Great. Wet jeans were my favourite. Bruce turned and started jogging, knowing that I would follow.
He moved down to the end of the block and opened a narrow door I wouldn't have even noticed, stepping into a narrow entrance hall. There were doors to the left and right and a wall-to-wall staircase in front. It was narrow and steep. I want to get the excess water off, but Bruce was already halfway up the stairs by the time the door had closed behind me, leaving me no choice but to follow. At the top of the stairs were three more doors. Bruce went in the one to the left. He never waited for me to catch up, or checked to see that I was following him. Maybe that should have bothered me, but it didn't.
The apartment turned out to be tiny, barely enough room for one person, and sparsely furnished. I didn't think Bruce had been there long, and I knew he wasn't staying. The main room was a kitchen, living room, and dining room combined. A bedroom, all the space swallowed by a bed and a dresser, lay through a door to the right, and what I assumed would be the bathroom on the left. There were no personal touches in the apartment; there weren't even any dishes in the sink. From what I could see of the bed, it didn't look like it had been slept in recently.
I stood on the mat just inside the door and studied the place. Bruce, who had vanished into the bedroom, returned with a pair of sweats and a t-shirt and handed them to me. He'd already changed out of his wet clothes and was dressed in another pair of jeans and a sweater. I kicked off my shoes, pulled off my socks and padded across the thin carpet to the bathroom. After I changed into the baggy clothes, pulling the drawstring as tight as I could on the pants, I wrung my clothes out and hung the wet garments from the shower curtain rod and returned to the living room.
"How long have you been in London?" I asked, peering out the window at the driving rain. Lightning lit the sky and in the flash, the streets of London looked deserted.
"Almost a month."
"What brought you here?"
"Do you want some tea?"
I sighed, a small exhale of breath, and leaned against the window, my head making a dull thud against the glass. I knew that tone of voice. He wasn't going to elaborate on his being in London. Fine. I didn't need to know, I guess. "Yeah, thanks." I moved to the couch and plopped down, curling my legs underneath me. The sweats were nice and warm; even though I'd wrung my hair out best I could, I was still cold.
"Is your throat okay?"
I looked up as he spoke and took the mug he pressed into my hands. It was deliciously hot and smelled delightful. It had milk and sugar, just like I liked. I closed my eyes as I inhaled the scent. I felt the couch give as Bruce sat down. I opened my eyes and found Bruce giving me a look somewhere between authoritative and inquisitive.
"Yeah, it's just going to bruise like I thought," I said as I tilted my head back for him to look. "You know, both my parents are doctors. I do know something about diagnosing injuries."
Bruce didn't say anything, just ran his fingers lightly along the outline of the forming bruise, gently pressed against my throat. Evidently, he decided that I was going to be okay, because he sat back and didn't say anything else. We settled into silence, with only the noise of the storm outside to break the quiet. It wasn't necessarily an awkward silence, but it certainly wasn't comfortable. At one point in our friendship, it would have been, but it had been a long time since we were that close. I was trying to think of something to say, a question to ask that he might actually answer, but I couldn't. I guess I was still dealing with my surprise at having run into him.
He'd vanished from Gotham just over a year ago, after the trial and subsequent shooting of Joe Chill, the man who'd murdered his parents. Just gone without so much as a word. He hadn't even said goodbye to Alfred Pennyworth, the man who had raised him.
"Are you heading home soon?" Bruce asked, drawing me out of my thoughts.
I turned on the couch so my back was against the arm and I could draw my knees up to my chest. I was glad to have something to talk about. "Yeah, I leave in a couple days. I've seen a lot, but I've still got some exploring to do," I answered with a smile. "But I've got to get back to Gotham soon so I can get things in order before I start my job at Wayne Enterprises at the beginning of the month. Mr. Fox managed to get me a position in Archives."
Bruce nodded like he wasn't surprised by the information. Maybe he wasn't.
"Did… you want me to tell Alfred anything when I get back? Rachel?" I asked tentatively. "Or should I just not mention that I ran into you at all?"
One of his eyebrows rose as he face turned sceptical. One corner of his mouth turned up. Glad to know I was amusing. "You've talked to Rachel?"
I rolled my eyes. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that he focused on that. Rachel and I had never been known for getting along. "Well, sort of. There was more yelling involved than talking, but she seemed to think I'd know where you were."
"Why would she think that?"
I shrugged, took a sip of my tea. "Probably because I try to have lunch with Alfred a few times a month and she assumed you would have kept in contact with him at least. Actually, I assumed the same thing. But he doesn't seem overly surprised that you haven't contacted him, though he is worried about you. He's told me that much." I stared down at the remaining liquid in my mug, suddenly shy. "We're all worried about you, Bruce."
Bruce was quiet for quite some time, but this silence was a thoughtful one. I watched subtle emotions play over his face and wondered what exactly he was thinking. When his hazel eyes turned back towards me, his face was unreadable. "You can tell them you saw me, if you want. And tell them I'm fine."
I looked around at the dingy apartment and then at Bruce, making sure he could tell I was looking at his dishevelled state. "Are you sure you're fine?" I asked, attempting to make my voice light.
Apparently I hadn't been successful. I sighed and sunk back into the couch, draining my tea as I did so. "I'll tell them."
That dreaded silence descended again and I wanted to scream. Couldn't he just tell me why he was here? What he was doing? Why he'd left Gotham in the first place? Just about the time I was about to get up and actually scream, Bruce rose from the couch and proceeded into the kitchen, taking my empty mug with him. As I watched him wash the mugs and place them in the cupboard, I noticed his eyes darting to the digital numbers of the stove clock.
"Do I need to leave?"
Bruce looked towards the windows and the still-driving rain. "It would probably be best."
I wanted to ask why, to probe until I got some information from him, anything, but he was speaking in that tone of voice, so I knew it would be useless. I got up off the couch and walked into the bathroom, pulling on my jacket and balling up my wet clothes before proceeding back to the entrance hall and shoving my feet back into my sneakers, cringing at the feel of wet fabric. When I straightened, Bruce was standing a couple feet away, arms crossed over his chest.
"I'm keeping these clothes," I blurted.
Bruce gave that small smile with one corner of his mouth and I felt myself smile in response. The expression didn't last long, though. "I don't know if I'm ever returning to Gotham."
Any trace of joviality vanished with that statement. I just nodded; it was all I could do. If I was being honest with myself, I'd expected as much. If he'd meant to come back, he would have made some sort of contact with Alfred or stopped back in Gotham or something, anything. Instead of fumbling for words, I stepped forward and gave Bruce a quick hug before retreating out of the apartment, fishing my cell phone out of my pocket as I moved. I called for a taxi and huddled in the corner by the door, peering out the tiny window, watching and waiting and wondering why my eyes were suddenly leaking.
An Explanation from the Author—
Most of you probably don't care, and if you don't, you can totally skip this part. It's no skin off my back or whatever the saying is. I just wanted to explain why I'm writing this when I have two fics already set up in the Nolan-verse. The fact is, I just wasn't happy with the other two. I wrote "Superhero's Confidante" a very long time ago, while I was still figuring out that writing was something I loved. With "Chances Are" I let someone talk me into making choices about the story I never would have made on my own. So, I'm going to back to the beginning of Eleanor's story and telling it the way I should have told it and writing it the way I should have written it—for me. It makes me very happy when people read and like my fanfiction, but I write it primarily for me, how I believe all writing should be done. Eleanor is an original character very near and dear to me for several reasons that are very personal and probably pretty boring and I wanted her story told right. Which is what you just read the beginning of. So, stick around if you'd like.