Pairing: Bruce/Jim, past Bruce/Rachel
Characters: Ensemble, including OCs.
Summary/Notes: Another Batman kidfic, I have no idea how they happen to me. Or, wait, I know; it's all kubis's fault. AU from a good part of Begins, but happens after TDK. You'll figure out the changes pretty damn quickly :)
Wordcount: 3,795 for this part.
Of all the things in the aftermath one that Bruce did not expect was getting a call from Rachel’s lawyer. First of all, he didn’t even know Rachel had a lawyer. When you thought of it, it made sense; she was always organized and careful and prepared for the worst, but it still wasn’t something you’d expect. Getting a phonecall from said lawyer two days before Rachel’s funeral was even stranger.
“You were named in Miss Dawes’ will, mister Wayne, we’d appreciate it if you were at the reading of it.”
There weren’t many things Rachel could have left him and frankly, he didn’t want any remainders of his failure to save her, but it didn’t matter; Rachel wanted him there and so he’d show up.
The city had been quiet for the last few days, licking its wounds. Roadworks started on the lower 5th, and the MCU temporarily moved quarters to a precinct downtown, until they got a new building. Hospitals were overcrowded and overworked, the patients with least serious cases were being discharged earlier, and whoever could be cared for at their homes soon followed. Wayne Enterprises had already volunteered their personnel and resources to aid the rebuilding, but it was going to take time.
It’s been quiet for another reason, too. With Joker locked away and Maroni dead, the criminals should be already raising up in search for the new leader, but somehow, they all kept their heads down. News about Batman taking up killing spread like a wildfire and made an impression. It wasn’t a comforting thought, but it was a useful one.
He hadn’t donned the suit since the night Harvey died. Every cop in town was going to shoot to kill – well, not every one, but almost all of them, enough to be an actual worry. Because he couldn’t fight back, not against Gotham’s finest, and they were going to use every measure. He made sure of that.
And if he was to be honest with himself, and he had never quite learned how to lie to himself; he didn’t think he’ll ever again be able to look at the suit without the cold feeling of guilt rushing through him. Would Joker even exist if Batman hadn’t?
“You did what had to be done, Master Bruce,” Alfred had said, quietly and calmly, dry and clipped tones sounding so sure, as if they had to be true. Maybe, but what had to be done was not always the right thing to do.
The funerals took place in a quick succession. Not many people visited Wuertz’ grave, a large family showed up at Maroni’s, Harvey had a funeral any hero deserved. Rachel’s, in comparison, was rather small, no honour guard or blown-up photos, and no speeches. Mrs. Dawes, Rachel’s mother, was a no-nonsense woman who didn’t stand for ceremony, and she had taken over the arrangements, refusing anything she considered pompous.
“Daniel doesn’t need the attention,” she told Alfred, who told Bruce, like he seemed to do with many things he heard. Apparently he thought that Bruce required distraction from his thoughts, like anything connected to Rachel’s funeral was going to distract him.
Well, fine, maybe. Because Daniel was eight years old and he had just lost his mother and someone he might have considered a future stepfather. His father was dead, according to Rachel, and Bruce was pretty sure she meant her old boss; he never felt comfortable enough to ask, not after seven years of absence from her life, and Rachel was never one to overshare about her personal life.
Daniel was holding his grandmother’s hand, his face closed off and his gaze absent. He seemed to be looking at something very far away, not at the mourners or the casket being lowered to the ground. He wasn’t crying, and he didn’t look as if he had been earlier, a fact that apparently impressed some of the gathered crowd, and worried some others; Bruce picked up at the whispered conversations mostly by habit, listening absently.
He couldn’t find fault in the not crying; it worked for him, years ago. It upset the people who might try and comfort him, made him seem aloof and strange but not like a poor orphan who needed to be patted on the head and told that everything was going to get better. No one needed platitudes at such a moment.
The only people who had actually succeeded in comforting Bruce, at least a little, all those years ago, were Alfred and Jim Gordon, the first with dry reserve and genuine emotion, the latter with awkward hope that things could get better, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Of course, this was then, and Jim Gordon who came to Rachel’s funeral didn’t look very hopeful, instead he looked tired and as if he carried the same heavy guilt Bruce did.
Bruce finally made his way over to Mrs. Dawes, the condolences dying out in his throat, words never spoken aloud. She took one look at him and nodded sharply, her eyes softening for the briefest of moments. “I’ll see you at the wake,” she told him, not a question, an order, not allowing any discussion. He felt five again, and caught with his hand in a cookie jar.
“Yes, Ma’am,” he muttered, half-joking and only half-badly. She didn’t smile but it was close enough, and Daniel looked up at him, Rachel’s puzzled expression echoing in his face; figuring something out, recalling something.
They really met only once before, Rachel brought Daniel to the penthouse, two hours before the housewarming party she was invited to and didn’t intend to attend. She brought a gift, a potted plant that already looked wilted.
“It’s becoming a habit,” Bruce pointed out, turning the gift in his hands. “You ever plan to attend one of my parties?”
“Throw one that’s not for show and I might,” she said with a smile. “Daniel, say hello. This is Bruce.”
“’llo,” the boy said, craning his head to look around. “Why do you have so many windows?”
“So I can see out. Gotham’s a beautiful city.”
“Looks like a giant fishbowl,” Daniel announced, then perked up. “I have sea monkeys. You can see them sometime.”
“Daniel,” Rachel chided laughingly, shaking her head, just as Bruce, a bit awkwardly, said that he’d love to. “Well, have fun with the party, Bruce.”
Her voice was pointed enough that he knew she had seen through the excuse and the guest list; all the people responsible for the city budget were going to be there, and the city needed a better equipped police force and safer homes. Rachel looked proud of him, she always did, but it seemed as if she was growing tired of something, maybe tired of waiting. He hated that, but Gotham came first.
And so Gotham continued to come first and he lost his chance with Rachel, and then he lost Rachel, too.
The wake was even more low-key than the funeral; few of Rachel’s coworkers, one friend from college, two or three cousins. She didn’t have a large family, for most of the time it was just her and her mother, and then Daniel. All in all, Bruce spent the first awkward twenty minutes standing aside; Alfred disappeared somewhere in the kitchen with Mrs. Dawes, and from all the other guests Bruce really only knew Jim Gordon, and it wasn’t like Jim Gordon knew they were actually well acquainted.
“Rachel spoke highly of him,” Mrs. Dawes muttered somewhere to Bruce’s left. It was impressive; not many people could sneak up on the Batman. “I thought he might tell me what really happened, but he clammed up.”
“What really happened?” Bruce hoped he pitched his voice at the right level of surprise.
“Like I’d believe in the Bat business. Rachel liked that fellow, she trusted him; that’s good enough for me.”
There was that. And it felt good, for the brief moment, the warm bubble of Rachel’s faith still remaining. All Bruce could do now was burst it. “Even Rachel was mistaken sometimes.”
“Maybe so,” Mrs. Dawes agreed. “But not about people, she had good instincts. You take care, and come after the reading of the will, we’ll have to talk, I suppose. And now I have to make sure Pennyworth doesn’t spoil my dinner. He said he’d mind it for a while, but I don’t trust him and his fancy ways. Always undercooks things.”
Well, sometimes. But Bruce wouldn’t ever dare to point that out; Mrs. Dawes was a force to be reckoned with, clearly, but Alfred could be scary as fuck sometimes, and coming from someone who had seen what Bruce had seen, well.
The guests were slowly leaving; only the chosen few were invited to stay for dinner. Gordon was apparently one of them, but he begged previous engagements and judging from his expression it was nothing pleasant. In the aftermath of all that transpired, nothing really was.
Bruce could hear the discussion in the kitchen all too clearly, and under normal circumstances it would be terribly amusing to hear Alfred finding a worthy opponent in verbal sparring, but Bruce was not in the mood for any kind of entertainment. Neither, it seemed, was Daniel, who had spent most of the wake upstairs in his room, but now descended, sitting on the stairs, hidden by the post at the end of the railing, watching people file out.
Bruce was pretty damn sure he neither made a noise or moved, but Daniel seemed to feel his gaze anyway and looked up, tilting his head. “You’re staying for dinner?”
“Your grandmother invited me,” Bruce offered, not yet an answer. He hadn’t decided; part of him wanted out of the house and the pictures of Rachel on the walls as soon as possible, but he couldn’t make himself move even for a step.
“You better stay, then. She’s going to be annoyed if you don’t.”
“Probably,” Bruce agreed, gesturing to the step with a questioning glance and getting a slow nod in return. He sat down next to the kid, sighing. “She still makes people eat everything from their plates?”
“Even the disgusting stuff. Or no dessert for you.”
In the end it was them, Mrs. Dawes, Alfred, and Jake, that one cousin of Rachel who wasn’t in a permanent state of a feud with Mrs. Dawes that stayed for dinner. Alfred spent it sulking into the soup he had not been allowed to modify with any condiments.
Mrs. Dawes watched him carefully, disconcertingly, her eyes warm but assessing. Bruce wasn’t sure how he warranted that treatment, but it set him on edge. There weren’t many people capable of that, but Mrs. Dawes used to send him away from the table when he hadn’t washed his hands; those things stayed with you.
Dinner was a solemn affair, saved mostly by Jake’s awkward attempts at conversation. Daniel was pushing food around his plate, clearly bereft of appetite, excusing himself halfway through. Mrs. Dawes made an instinctive move of getting up, then paused as Bruce did the same. It surprised him as much as it probably did her, but he had learned to act on his gut feelings a long time ago, and didn’t think twice before standing up.
“I’ll…” he shook his head before trying again. “If you don’t mind, maybe I can talk to him.”
She nodded, slowly, throwing Alfred a quick questioning look that Bruce filed for later. They used to do that years ago too, thinking Bruce and Rachel couldn’t catch the silent exchanges. But then and now, Bruce wasn’t sure what they actually meant, he only could tell the general mood, and this was surprise and approval both.
“You’re most welcome to try,” she said and Bruce made his way upstairs, knocking on the doors adorned with a baseball poster.
“I don’t want dessert,” Daniel yelled.
“That’s good, because I think Alfred ate it all,” Bruce offered seriously. “May I come in?”
Silence, then doors opening a crack, a suspicious frown welcoming him. God, the kid did look like Rachel, same eyes, same mouth. It took all of Bruce’s willpower not to turn on his heel and run away.
“Come in,” Daniel said and turned away, dragging his feet back to the bed, shoes still on, burrowing himself under the blankets and a heavy book.
“What are you reading?” Bruce asked awkwardly from the lack of anything better to say.
He thought: this should be easier. If anyone should know what to say, it should be him, having gone through what he had, but it apparently didn’t work like that. He tried to remember what people said to him that made it better, but kept on coming up blank. He had Alfred at the time, but Alfred didn’t say much, and nothing else came to mind.
“A book,” Daniel said evasively. “Mom read it to me when…” he added and stopped abruptly, words swallowed and held down.
Bruce could probably offer to read it for him, but he bit his tongue and didn’t. Instead, he sat down at the edge of the bed and fixed his gaze on the poster of some strange green-haired character on the wall.
“Long day, wasn’t it?” he asked after a few moments have passed.
Daniel nodded, his head heavy. “I have to help Grandma with the dishes after dinner,” he volunteered.
“I think she’ll understand if you skip it this once,” Bruce muttered. “Probably,” he added. After all, he did actually know Elizabeth Dawes. “You could at least take a nap.”
Daniel’s head rolled back to rest on the pillow, next to Bruce’s shoulder, his eyes already half-closed. “Just a nap,” he agreed.
He was out within seconds. Bruce moved to take off his shoes and cover him better with the blanket, then silently made his way out. Batman’s stealth wasn’t something he ever anticipated would come useful in such a situation, but he wasn’t going to be picky.
Mrs. Dawes waited for him downstairs, leaning against the railing.
“He’s asleep,” Bruce told her.
“Good. And how are you?”
“I feel like it’s something I should be asking you,” he shrugged, forcing a smile. “You lost a daughter, I just…”
She shook her head. “You just lost Rachel, too. Don’t play an idiot with me, Bruce, you’re a little bit too smart for that, and I’m a whole lot too smart for it.”
“Good boy. Now, Pennyworth is waiting in the car, says he can’t stand watching my cooking. You go home, and I’ll see you tomorrow.”
It was all too easy to fall into that pattern; Mrs. Dawes and Alfred organizing his life and planning out everything he was supposed to do. For a few brief moments he felt like a lost kid again, coming back from a funeral to an empty house.
Only then, he had the luxury of locking himself in his room and crying; now he had duties to attend to. And some things really didn’t suit a masked vigilante.
Alfred was silent, if not pensive, for the rest of the evening. It wassometimes a relief, when Alfred didn’t nag and didn’t complain, and it was sometimes a scary thing, when Alfred was so annoyed with something Bruce had done that he couldn’t find words. Right now it bordered on worrying, not scary, but Bruce couldn’t muster enough energy to ask.
And if Alfred didn’t bother to tell him what was on his mind, well, it probably was something Bruce didn’t need to, or didn’t want to know.
What he did need to know was that Joker’s transfer to Arkham had gone without a hitch. Which would usually mean a stop at the MCU’s rooftop but it wasn’t safe anymore, and that stung more than he expected it to. The whole thing was his idea, yes, one he insisted on even as Gordon protested, but it left him with very few options.
But maybe that was good, too, maybe Batman worked much better when he was something scary in the dark alleys of the city, and not someone heralded as its savior.
He didn’t bother with the suit, just a black turtleneck and the cowl. In the darkness, when you could blend into the shadows, it would be enough.
“Be careful, Master Wayne,” was all that Alfred said, his tone clipped and dry and worried. It was clear he didn’t approve of the trip but didn’t know what to say to dissuade Bruce from the idea.
Gordon’s house was darker than expected; the lights were off, including the one on the porch. The only one on was coming from the back of the house, from the small garden. Gordon was there, sitting on the steps, half-burned cigarette shielded by his hand. He didn’t smoke often, Bruce knew this much, but maybe the empty house had something to do with it.
“Barbara and the kids are staying with her parents,” Gordon volunteered absently, as quietly as if he was talking to himself, but Bruce knew he had been, well, not spotted, but noticed somehow. It seemed that for the first time he didn’t manage to take the good commissioner off guard. “At least until she finds a suitable flat.”
“I’m sorry,” Bruce said after a long moment. It seemed like the thing to say.
“Are you? I’m not. It’s safer for them, that way,” he said matter-of-factly, plainly, as if he weighed the options and come to a logical conclusion. “Joker’s in Arkham, under lock and key,” he said, looking up and at the same time taking off his glasses, blinking at the darkness. “I know you’re not here for the small talk.”
He wasn’t, but suddenly Bruce desperately wished he could be here for just that. Talk to someone who understood how it was to carry that weight, to feel responsible for the entire city, to have failed so many and to have lied so much.
But he wasn’t here for that.
“He needs to be under constant guard. I’m not sure if the doctors there understand how much supervision is needed.”
“I actually know how to do my job,” Gordon pointed out, but there was no sting behind the words, no annoyance. It was said with a gentle nod of his head, as if to indicate he was going to take the advice.
And there was weariness, and still a shade of guilt. Bruce briefly thought of taking the words back but there was no need for that; he was pretty sure Gordon understood.
“Still,” Bruce said.
Gordon smiled, as if something was a private joke; just a quirk of his lips as he threw the cigarette on the ground and stood up, crushing it under his heel. “Still,” he agreed. “I’m sorry, too. About Rachel Dawes.”
Sometimes, rarely but sometimes, Bruce forgot how much Gordon actually knew, and how much he probably figured out. It seemed as if years had passed since the Narrows and the hallucinogen but the crazy jump from the window was just days ago and so was the mad dash to save her from the Joker’s trap. Gordon didn’t miss much, he probably knew more than he let on.
And knowing that didn’t worry Bruce. It was quite telling in itself.
“Keep me posted on the Joker,” he said and made a step back, deeper into the shadows.
Gordon rolled his eyes. “Easier said than done,” he pointed out.
“Look for my sign,” Bruce told him, startling a dry laugh out of Gordon.
Fine, call him sentimental. But they were two again, and it felt a little better than it should have.
He probably should have seen it coming. From miles away. He didn’t even have the excuse of the insanity that had been the last few days, although the request to attend the will reading was a rather heavy clue; no, he should have seen this coming a long time ago, when he met Daniel for the first time, when he heard that Rachel had a son.
Well, they had a son.
“You alright, Bruce?” Mrs. Dawes asked, hand resting on his shoulder as she joined him on the steps outside the lawyer’s office.
“You knew,” he said, part question and part accusation.
“I suspected,” she said. “He looks like you, a little, when you were a kid. Same nose, something about the look in his eyes.”
“I can’t do this,” he found himself saying, shaking his head. “I’m not… I can’t…”
“Yes you are, and yes you can. Rachel thought you could, at least,” she shrugged. “Well, unless you doubt her words; I’m sure the lawyer can arrange for the test.”
“It’s not that,” he muttered quickly, her face softening at the fast response. “And you know it’s not that.”
“See, I knew you were smarter than you play at being. Then what is it?”
“I’m not a father material.”
She snorted at that, shaking her head. “Half of your genes says differently. It’s not rocket science, you’ll figure it out.”
Bruce looked up, squinting at her suspiciously. “You know, I would think you should be contesting the will and saying you can take care of him.”
“As I said, you’re not as much of an idiot as you pretend to be. You’re a good kid, Bruce, and Rachel could do much worse than you, and so could Daniel. And, well…” she stopped and looked away, for once lost for words and Bruce blinked at that, the thought penetrating the haze he was still in.
“How long have I known, or how long do I have?” she asked dryly; never the one to beat around the bush.
“Three months since they’ve given up on treatments. And they’re not sure, but not more than a year. And I’m inclined to believe them, they have fancy degrees and all. Rachel found some good doctors.”
“I could find better ones,” Bruce said quietly and she reached to pat his hand.
“I’m sure you could. But this is it, dear, I can feel that and no doctor with no fancy degree can tell me otherwise. And Daniel deserves more than a Grandma who would leave him alone after a few months. He can have a Grandma who lives in Hawaii while he gets to know his father and slowly forgets about her.”
“Elizabeth,” he said, switching for the first name maybe second or third time ever and she smiled again, cracked around the edges, and shifted, moving to stand up.
“Yes, I know, dear. Now, we should go and listen to the rest of what that lawyer has to say, and then you’re coming over for dinner. No discussion.”
He wouldn’t dare to try.