The door bell had been thundering through the empty halls of stately Wayne Manor like a disagreeable newborn, its wails painful and unending. Bruce Wayne awoke to it finally, images of firearms going off plastered in his mind. A bad dream.
The bell rang for a perfect four seconds and then started anew immediately, as if the ringer knew when exactly to hit the button to chain the sound together into one long continuous annoyance.
This was unheard of within the walls of Wayne Manor.
Regardless of where Alfred was in the mansion, be it the foyer or the art gallery, he would always be there by the second ring. There was an energy to that spry old man that even got a rise out of Damien every once in a while.
Of course, that was over now. Two weeks ago. Cancer. Bruce’s strong hand holding onto Alfred’s withering one as it faded away.
Pulling the pillow off of his face, Bruce swung his legs off the side of the bed, reaching out to grab hold of a dusty glass of lukewarm water. No Earl Gray waiting for him this gloomy, overcast morning. He gently put the glass down and got to his feet, tossed on a bathrobe, and stepped over to the window.
Detective Harvey Bullock was pacing around in small circles while his partner, Renee Montoya, jabbed her finger into the door bell repeatedly. At least it was company.
In one more minute they would leave. Of course recluse Bruce Wayne wasn’t going to step out of his cave. Or perhaps it was billionaire Bruce Wayne was too hungover to walk on his own two feet. There were plenty of excuses.
But if Alfred was there, he would chastise him and invite the guests in despite everything else. The Wayne legacy was something to treasure, not to use as a crutch for the Batman to live off of.
A ghost took hold of him, forcing his arms to open the window, and an unfamiliar voice came from his dry mouth. “Give me a few minutes to get down there!”
Montoya looked up just in time for the window to shut on them. Even through the thick glass, Bullock’s complaints were received loud and clear.
He scratched the thick stubble underneath his jagged chin. It had more in common with sandpaper than hair at this point. That would need to disappear before he went downstairs; his grief, while acceptable, didn’t need to be in their faces.
The thought of coming downstairs as he was seemed like a disservice to Alfred’s memory.
Throwing on a casual brown sports-coat, Bruce imagined his future in the next few minutes: Serving lemonade to a man who hated him and tried to get him under fire against the Gotham PD. Fortunately for him, Commissioner Gordon would never allow that. Everything that Bruce had done in the past two decades wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for Gordon.
His fist pounded into the door frame as he passed through it.
They were going to want to talk about Jim, and that was good.
Unlike with Alfred two weeks ago, Bruce didn’t have anyone to feel the loss with and grieve.
“What kind of music do you guys like?” Bruce asked, interrupting the awkward small talk that dogged at their heels on their way to the kitchen.
There was something strange in him being the one to show someone around his castle. Questions were posed to him that he didn’t know the answer to; why is this here? Who is that a painting of? Is that an original?
Alfred knew though.
He should have asked him before he passed on. Alfred loved that old house.
“You want to listen to music?” Bullock asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Uh, whatever you want is fine, Mr. Wayne,” Montoya recovered, elbowing Bullock in the gut.
“Thanks,” Bruce called out as he rummaged through the kitchen cabinets. Absentmindedly, his right hand slapped the computer console lodged into the wall beside him and pleasant Tchaikovsky flooded the room. Waltz of the Flowers was always Alfred’s favorite. “Takes the edge off.”
Bruce placed two cups of hot tea before the detectives beside a pitcher of lemonade. Taking a seat at the table across them, he leaned back, bones grinding together, and looked up at them with an icy gaze.
“You want to know why some of my blood was found at Jim’s murder-site?” Bruce said coolly.
Montoya’s jaw remained locked but her eyes widening just enough, so ready to believe that it was him, and who could blame her? Bruce Wayne was upper crust garbage.
“Yeah, something like that,” Bullock slurred as he pushed the mug away from him.
Bruce’s mouth twitched for a second as he considered what to say. His mind too tired from disuse, he said what he needed to. “Jim was like a father to me.”
He wasn’t going to lie about Jim. He couldn’t.
“I didn’t know you had a relationship with him, Mr. Wayne,” Montoya said, highly alert and leaning forward. “He mentioned that you saved his life trying to catch a red light once, that’s about it.”
Bruce’s eyes darkened.
“Bruce is fine,” he said noncommittally.
“Sure,” Montoya responded, scribbling something in her notepad.
It was time for Bruce to elaborate, but the words hung around him in a fog.
“You holding up okay in here, Wayne?” Bullock shot back, his arms folded together on the table, noting the heap of dirty dishes in the sink.
“It has been a pretty intense past few weeks,” Bruce smiled despite himself.
Alfred was looked on as some sort of accessory to the Wayne Family Legacy, a symbol of wealth and affluence. No one seemed to really bat an eye when they learned of his passing.
To them, Bruce was just another out-of-touch, sad, rich boy who still needed to read the directions on the back of the pasta box.
“Could you tell us more about your relationship with Jim?”
Bruce looked up from his thoughts. Montoya was the one talking.
He shouldn’t have said anything. Jim wouldn’t have wanted him to, he would want him to preserve the Batman rather than blow it all to Hell over one singular upset.
Twenty years of fighting, living in this fantasy where everyone would stay alive for him, where they would be present.
This wasn’t how it felt when he lost his parents. Alfred may never have said his intentions out loud, but he knew what the old man wanted for him. He knew the places Alfred wanted him to go, the man he wanted him to eventually grow into.
The Batman was dead and it was time for Bruce Wayne to take his first steps in thirty three years.
“Yeah,” Bruce said briskly. “Hey, if you’re not going to drink your tea, could I have it?”
Bullock rolled his eyes and slid the mug over to Bruce. Bruce couldn’t help but smile; messing with Bullock was something of a hobby.
He scooped it up and took a loud slurp from it, the water burning against his tongue, giving him that little edge. He looked Montoya straight in the eye. She leaned forward eagerly.
“Every New Year’s Eve, me and Jim would meet up and get coffee together.”
Montoya’s excitement faded quickly, but then a light went off in her eyes and she dropped her pencil. Okay. So that was out there now for them to do with as they pleased.
Bruce looked over to Bullock whose beady eyes stared questionably at his partner. Figures. Bullock would have flipped his lid if he had found out about the Commissioner and the Batman’s little annual ceremony.
“Am I missing something?” Bullock attempted to whisper over to Montoya.
“I’ll explain it to you in the car,” she said briskly. Eyes darting back to Bruce, a girlish shyness coming over her, she continued. “So what do you know?”
Bruce cracked a smile, a smile that wouldn’t look so hot with the paparazzi. It rippled across his face, twisting his features, the pockmarks and scars coming into the light. His smile.
Bruce’s voice dropped an octave. From a warm summer’s day to an unforgiving winter’s night.
“It’s no use going back to yesterday,” Bruce recited, “Because I was a different person then.”
Bullock’s eyes popped open at that familiar voice. “You—“
In a city full of masked freaks and killers, some of whom dedicated their lives to particular literary references, it would make sense for the law enforcement to have brushed up their comprehension of certain novels; he had just given them the entire case.
Montoya nodded. “Thank you.”
Five minutes later, Bruce found himself alone in the mansion once again. It was for the best that they said no more to each other; it was just going to get all of them in trouble.