Dick drew in
his breath as ‘Bruce’ moved in front of the camera. Surprisingly, the older
man smiled, but there was tension pinched at the side of his eyes and the smile
was little more than a flash – disappearing without a trace as it usually did.
flushed through Dick’s veins and a feeling of dread consumed him.
I know the decision to watch this isn’t one you’ve made lightly.” Bruce’s tone was firm, bordering on harsh. His
Batman persona always took control when he was stressed. Bruce began fiddling
with his watch, a dead giveaway his discomfort level was going through the roof.
sure you wanted to respect my decision and trusted my judgment… as you did all
your life. So I assume Alfred convinced you, you had a right to know and Tim
pointed out I wanted to tell you.”
Tim shook his
his arms over his chest. “He read us all like books.”
“To be honest, I’m relieved.” His face didn’t exactly reflect the words,
but his tone lightened a shade. “Before I get into that, there
is something else I need to say. I don’t know when you are viewing this
message. Hopefully you are an old man, though in our line of work, it is
likely I faced my day of judgment before your hair turned grey. In the last
few months, I become responsible for Damian.”
Dick shook his head slowly; now he had a timeline.
Bruce had made this very recently. So what had prompted him to share this
important secret? The ‘arrival’ of Damian?
“If fate is kind, I will have been given the
opportunity to raise Damian and he is a grown man when you view this. If not…
I’m truly sorry, Dick. You are the only one I can ask to bring him up in my
need to ask, Bruce,” Dick murmured.
“At the moment he’s confused and suspicious of
everything. I know you will know what to do. You inspire trust in a way I’ve
never seen another do. I’m sorry to leave this to you, but I guess this isn’t
a unique situation.”
Dick’s brow furrowed.
“… the eldest being left to raise the youngest when
the parents pass away.” Again, Bruce smiled, but this time it held great
affection and lingered on his face.
hard. He felt Tim’s hand on his shoulder.
“I know you probably would have taken responsibility
for Damian without this appeal and I thank you for it. As I said, if fate has
been kind, Damian is already a man and this request is superfluous.”
Bruce sighed and dropped his face for a moment as if
to collect himself. When his chin came up, he looked emotional. “Now, Tim,
I’d like you to leave. What follows is for Dick alone. Dick, pause the video
until Tim is gone.”
Tim paused the
video and the pair glanced at each other.
good. I can’t believe he knew that…”
would you be at a time like this?” Dick pointed out.
Tim exhaled deeply. “Look, I know it is his wish that I go, but…”
I’ll be fine.”
Tim removed his
hand, but appeared torn.
needed a purpose, Dick suggested, “Go up and check on Alfred. He’s more upset
than he’s letting on.”
“Will do.” Tim
nodded encouragement, handed Dick the remote control, then turned and headed up
the stairs. He paused at the top, glanced back, nodded again and then
his attention at the frozen image on the screen and a lump swelled in his
throat as his mind drifted back to the personal message Bruce had left for him.
With a trembling finger, Dick clicked the play button on his
laptop. For a few moments the screen remained blank and then Bruce’s face
filled it. Just seeing Bruce caused Dick’s eyes to moisten. In the last few
years, things had been better between them… not perfect, but better.
“Dick, there are only three things I need to say.”
No fluff or niceties. “Don’t make this clinical, Bruce,” Dick growled.
Surely Bruce would… Dick shook his head. Maybe not.
“First, you don’t need to become Batman.”
Dick frowned, his insecurities at ever living up to his mentor’s
“I know you may feel obligated, but there is no need. It
is difficult for a man to move out of the shadow of his father… particularly
when he is ‘larger than life’ and I guess it doesn’t get much larger than
Batman. But Dick, you did. You forged a path of your own. You earned the
respect of others in your own right. Only recently, I found myself dropping
Nightwing’s name to gain trust.” Bruce winked. “It wasn’t something
Dick smiled, Bruce’s attempt to ease the tension
“Your abilities are second to none. You will not be
letting me down by burying Batman with me. I mean that. Nightwing has his own
reputation. It is one I believe should be respected as much as Batman’s. If
anything, Nightwing is the one who has connections… who can call for allegiance
and receive it out of friendship and respect. I have started to realize the
importance of such connections.”
Dick blinked. There was an overwhelming sense of relief coupled
with pride. Bruce had been proud of him and he didn’t expect him to take
over. Dick wasn’t sure he could anyway. He’d worn the cowl before but then,
he’d simply been filling in for a while. He’d enjoyed it on so many levels.
But now… now it would be like wearing a shroud.
“Second… and this isn’t easy to say….”
Dick drew in a breath and held it.
“Thank you. You saved me from myself, Dick… over and
A single tear burst its dam and trickled down Dick’s
“Alfred said that before you came into our lives I was
existing, not living. You gave me my life back and you showed me how to do
this job without it being totally consuming. I know I’ve had ‘relapses’ at
different times… a lot of times… but you were always there to find me again…
to show me the path back and to remind me of why I’m doing this. Thank you.
You are the one person who always completely understood and who I could trust...
who trusted me even when I didn’t trust myself.”
Bruce’s licked his lips and Dick felt his chest tighten.
“Finally… I want you to know how much I love you,
Tears appeared in Bruce’s eyes and Dick felt his own
tumbling down his face. Bruce had never before used the ‘L’ word. When Dick
had been young, there had always been a hand on his shoulder… hugs… smiles… all
of which had conveyed love. As a child he’d felt safe and cherished. But as
he’d grown, the hand no longer found his shoulder, the hugs had ceased and the
smiles disappeared altogether. There had been times when he’d wondered if the
love Bruce had felt for him had dissolved along with the gestures of caring.
“I care very deeply for Tim and Cassie and consider them
my children as well, but they say the first born holds a special place for a
father… whoever ‘they’ are, they’re right. I am proud of you, Dick. I know I
have hurt you over the years, but it wasn’t because I didn’t love you. It is
probably because I loved you too much and I was terrified I was going to lose
you. I have been selfish and cold, and distant and so many other things but I
pray you know how much you mean to me. No father could be prouder of a son
than I am of you.”
Bruce opened his mouth… seemingly going to say something
more, but he clamped his jaw shut and stared at the screen for a few moments. Pain,
frustration and a multitude of other emotions flashed across his eyes… and the
screen when blank. Just as abruptly as the message had started, it finished.
No salutation. He was gone… just like that.
Dick lowered his face and wept.
… The memory
on the screen in front of him. What was it Bruce had kept from him? A right
to know. He’d wanted to say something… something he hadn’t said in the earlier
video message. Something he’d appeared about to say but had locked his jaw in
an effort to contain the secret… a secret Dick realized now, Bruce had been
battling to keep. Considering keeping secrets was second nature to the man,
Dick felt grave concern.
shoulders, he raised the remote control and restarted the video.
“Dick, it is important we are alone. Very
“We are,” Dick muttered.
The cave echoed
with a dull whirring sound and out of thin air appeared...
“Bruce!” Dick gasped.
The man who’d raised him… who Dick loved like a father… stood not five feet
from him. The signals being sent via Dick’s eyes overrode what his brain knew
to be impossible. In that moment, all thought processes ceased. The emotion and the conflicting messages
from his senses and brain sent him darting forward. He reached out
instinctively and tragically watched as his fingers passed through Bruce’s
image – a three-dimensional
“I hope this didn’t startle you. I thought for what I’m going to
say, a holograph was better than talking to a flat screen.”
With a cry of
grief, Dick allowed his brain to beat back the cherished hope he’d secretly
held that Bruce had someone beaten death… despite having seen the body and
doubling checking the DNA twice.
down at his hand which was still piercing the image and tears filled his eyes.
He’d honestly thought he’d convinced himself that this time Bruce was really
gone and yet… Dick squeezed his eyes shut. He simply hadn’t been ready to say
goodbye. Of course, that was part of the pain. He hadn’t had a chance to say
goodbye or to tell Bruce… He swallowed and lifted his gaze.
image looked solid and sounded so real. This was cutting edge technology…
years ahead of what the rest of the world had. Clearly it was also interactive
and intuitive, ‘Bruce’ having stopped speaking in response to Dick’s cry and
Slowly Dick lowered
his hand, sighed with deep regret, then took three steps back and commanded,
“You see…” Bruce
paused and grimaced. “I’m really not sure how you are going to react. You
may want to take a swing at me.”
bad?” Dick asked. The hologram froze again. “Resume.”
“What I’m going to tell you may change your opinion of me. What
you do with this information is up to you.” Bruce lowered his gaze. “It can’t affect me now.”
you?” Dick muttered. The hologram paused. Dick stared intently at Bruce.
“What the hell is going on?” Again, he was overcome with a sense of foreboding.
Tim’s words echoed in his mind. ‘Like maybe he wants to put things
“You want me to
put things right for you,” Dick murmured. “Damn it, Bruce. That’s not fair.”
Dick shook his
head, cursed softly and then gave the command for the holographic message to
“You have a right to see me for who I really am.” Bruce sighed and lifted his chin. “I have
struggled with this for a long time. Reviewed my actions a thousand times.”
collecting himself. “When I was seventeen I fell in love.”
“What?” It was
the last thing in the world Dick had expected Bruce to say. “Resume.”
“I was just a kid. It lasted three weeks and six days. They
were probably the twenty-seven happiest days of my life. But she was in love with
someone else as well.”
“She didn’t lead me on. She was in the unenviable situation of
falling in love with two people at the same time. It was agony for her because
she had to make a choice… and she did.” The nerve in Bruce’s cheek jumped. “I had enough
money to offer her the world on a plate, but she loved him more. So, I left.
Started my trek around the world, training from the masters of every martial arts
discipline. I had planned to do that as soon as I finished school but decided
to go immediately and complete my education by correspondence. I was certain I
would forget her but…”
Bruce shook his
“Irrationally, exactly twelve months later to the day, I returned to see her
and discovered she was married with a six month old baby.”
Dick did the
calculations in his head and realized, “She was already pregnant when you were
seeing her. Ouch… Resume.”
“I felt betrayed. I was so angry, Dick. I had dropped my guard -
something I had promised myself I would never do. When my parents died, I
swore at their funeral I would never feel that pain again and the only
way to ensure that was never to get close to anyone.”
Dick ran his
hand through his hair. “Life doesn’t work that way, Bruce… Resume.”
“I fell for her and she deceived me, or that is how I saw it at
that time. I reacted very badly. I lost control and...” Bruce clenched his jaw, apparently unable
sound like the man Dick knew. Bruce was always so controlled; his rage always metered…
his emotions buried so deeply they appeared non-existent. But by the sound of
this there had been a time when none of that was so.
determination Bruce set himself and repeated, “I lost control and became
what I despised.”
tightened as the night Bruce made him take the pledge was drawn from his memory
matter what, we must never take a life. It is what separates us from the scum
we deal with.” Had Bruce
been a hypocrite? Was that what this was all about? Had Bruce crossed the
ultimate line when he’d been a teenager?
What the hell did you do?... Resume.”
“I wanted to kill him and her both… not that I think I would
have. Thankfully, it never got to that. The moment I burst in yelling like a
mad man, he stepped in front of her… just as my father had done when Joe Chill
threatened us. She screamed… just as my mother had. It all came rushing back,
but this time I was the aggressor threatening innocent people. I had become
what I wanted to rid the world of. I left Gotham immediately to continue my
training with an emphasis on learning self-control. I was determined my
emotions would never again get the better of me. A Mongolian Monk, cast out of
his order for taking a life, taught me how to bypass my emotions… to capture
and store them in an inactive part of my consciousness before they manifested or
if they had manifested, to dismiss them completely without actually
experiencing them. I guess, after a while, I become so accomplished at it I did
it automatically and so completely that I actually existed, void of any feelings.”
softly. “All because you loved someone who didn’t love you. “ Now Dick
understood. Bruce hadn’t always been cold and unfeeling. He had learned such behavior
not just to protect himself, but to protect others from him. “Resume.”
“Once my training was complete, I hit the streets of Gotham as
Batman. For the first time since I’d lost my parents, I had a real purpose and
didn’t feel…” Bruce swallowed.
furrowed. “Didn’t feel what?... Resume."
“…My life went on but every year, on that anniversary I’d spend an
hour like some strangely demented peeping Tom, watching her. I never approached
or let her know I was there. At first, I could barely look at him but
over the years I saw how genuinely happy they were and I realized she had
chosen the right man. I could never have given her the attention she deserved.
No matter how much I cared for her, Batman still would have come first. My love
faded over time to simple affection, but… perhaps for nostalgia’s sake… I still
stood in the crowd once a year. That was why I was at the circus that night.”
It took several
heartbeats for Dick to process what Bruce had said.
There was a
rushing sound in his ears as his heart-rate doubled in that split second. “Why
you were at…” Dick’s eyes widened as the pieces fell into place. “My mother!”