untitled #16

by 'rith

Summary: Despite all the debate surrounding Bruce Wayne: Murderer/Fugitive, there's one important person in Gotham who hasn't weighed in on the subject yet. Set at the beginning of the Fugitive arc.
Disclaimer: DC's, not mine.
Note: Wrote most of this a couple of weeks ago and before the excellent Batman #605, so I'm pleased some speculation herein turned out to be right. (Greg Rucka, I trusted you all along. Validation is nice.) Thanks to Samy for helpful beta!

(This note lies in a safe atop a pile of similarly unsent letters.)

The greatest irony is that this had to happen *now,* after I've retired and can't be of any help to you whatsoever.

Then again, I've no confidence that you would have accepted a hand in any case.

That's always been the root of the problem.

There's a lynch mob forming in the public opinion. "Of course he did it," they're saying, a murmur rising to a roar, "it all makes sense. Consider what happened to him as a child, what kind of trauma he must have been hiding."

After these many years, they're only realizing that *now?* It always amazed me that everyone so thoroughly bought into your carefully arranged fašade: Bruce Wayne, airhead dilettante. Those few who knew the truth marveled at how well you pulled it off. So many years of precise deception, and now it's all been cast aside in favor of-- I don't know what.

You've always been two steps ahead of me, old friend, but this time I have to admit I haven't the faintest idea where you're going.

I wonder if anyone does. If I could, I would question your faithful devotees: the disingenuous "butler" who guards your secrets so closely, your former ward, his young successor, your superhuman allies, my own daughter. But doing so would break the code of silence I've held so long. I'm sure in some way it comforts Barbara to believe that I've remained unaware of her involvement in your world, as if my supposed ignorance of her double life protects me from constant worry. It's never been true, and someday she'll know that alongside the inevitable anxiety I've only ever been proud of her accomplishments. But right now she's absorbed with finding the truth about what's happened to *you,* and I don't want to distract her from that.

..."the truth." I write that and realize the obvious: that at no point during this entire affair did I ever consider that you might have been guilty. There was a time, not so long ago, that an impostor took your place and brutalized our city rather than acting to protect her. I admit, to my shame, that I briefly believed you were responsible. I know better. I *know* better. I cannot, do not, will NEVER accept the possibility you might have committed this crime. Your innate trust in *me* prevented me from...murdering...the most evil creature that walks upon the Earth. I owe you no less. Without getting maudlin (or, God forbid, sounding as if I were writing your epitaph), I have never known a better man. There is no one more dedicated to this city and to the cause of justice.

But you make it hard for even your staunchest allies to defend you, and I wonder if that isn't your intent after all.

You're alone now, and I have no doubt that's exactly as you wish it. I know you well enough to guess that you have some plan in mind. I also know that your disciples will never stop *trying* to help you, whether you want them to or not. Their loyalty would astonish me if I didn't know precisely how they feel. I was, I AM, deeply honored to be among them.

My friends in the GCPD tell me that Batman is still active even while Bruce Wayne has become the most wanted man on their docket. Maybe this is all necessary to clear your name. I can--very vaguely--imagine how frustrating it must have been to 'waste' time in a jail cell you might have escaped any time while Vesper Fairchild's true killer eluded all detection. It used to frustrate me terribly that you consistently found invisible evidence I and my best detectives missed, but ego always had to take second place to the justice we were all after. Perhaps this case's subtle clues demanded your direct intervention.

I can't even imagine how you must have felt, seeing a murder committed in your own home. That fact alone makes me wonder at the motive. The choice of victim, the location, the inevitable consequence...it's far too deliberate to be a random crime. Someone either wanted to frame Bruce Wayne...or wanted to strike at the Batman.

The first would be bad enough. A business rival, striking at Wayne Enterprises? Couple these events with Lucius Fox's now-seeming-conveniently timed stroke and the possibility becomes more believable.

The second hypothesis would be disastrous.

It would mean that one of our Gotham-grown psychopaths knows both your identity and how to hit you where it hurts. It would mean that Vesper's murder--and maybe Fox's stroke--were acts of revenge, means to an end rather than events whole unto themselves.

It would mean that the GCPD has no chance of solving the crime, because they're not seeing the pattern. And because your secrets can't be revealed, they never will.

But I'm not so arrogant to think I'm the only one who's considered these possibilities. Bullock and Montoya would certainly have explored other options--at least until the breakout. For every theory I've got, I'm sure Barbara's extrapolated three more and is meticulously investigating every one with the help of your other allies. If-- WHEN they catch up to whoever's done this, I trust they will hold to *justice* rather than vengeance. But I wouldn't blame them if they don't.

The same way you wouldn't have blamed me, last Christmas Eve, if I'd shot the Joker dead on the steps of police headquarters. There isn't a day goes by I don't wish I had.

I should say that there isn't a day goes by that I'm glad I didn't...but I'd be lying.

Done is done. The only thing that matters now is the ongoing crusade, as it were. After so many years of seeing you accomplish the impossible, I have absolutely no doubt that by the end of this Bruce Wayne will be cleared--undoubtedly with the help of some clever shading of the truth. And that's fine. It's a necessary fiction that conceals a much larger and more essential truth: Gotham needs both Wayne and the Batman.

It suddenly occurs to me to wonder if you know that, too. Because if you don't...if you've come to believe that Bruce gets in the way of your obsession--

I can't believe that. You're not Harvey Dent, despite inevitable comparisons. I know you. And you know better.

I pray you know better.

Before the No Man's Land resolution was repealed, I asked you a question. You said, with no hesitation: "Yes, Jim. We're friends."

I think it's come to the point where I want you to prove it. Not by offering a hand, as you've done so often, but by *accepting* help when you so obviously need it. All you ever had to do was ask, Bruce. I'm still waiting, after all these years.

In retrospect I realize: After I was shot, you stood in my garden offering up the same speech you'd given me before. Your fears of failing me, my family, Gotham. Your inability to accept defeat in any capacity. At that point, I couldn't help wondering if we'd never see each other again, because what use could a *retired* commissioner be to your crusade?

An unworthy thought, because I know I've been more than a resource to you. You've said it yourself over the years, in far fewer words. But the last thing I wanted was to become another loss you didn't want to accept. I said: "Stop by whenever you want. Don't be a stranger."

You said: "Good night, Jim."

I wonder if what you really meant was good-bye.


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