Bruce sighed as he lowered himself, swiftly swinging his legs around so that he was sitting on the floor. He gazed at his hands, which were calloused and hardened by the training he had received while he'd been gone from Gotham, while his thoughts wandered to the person he'd missed the most in all that time.
It had both delighted and deflated him to see her last night. Bruce hadn't seen her since he'd left, and seeing the young woman she had grown to be had felt both like a butterfly had been set loose in his stomach and like someone had punched him in the gut.
She was beautiful, even more so now that she was an adult. It wasn't in the same way models or actresses were 'beautiful' – Rebecca wasn't 'glamorous' the way movie stars were, nor was she as thin as normal model though she was still slim and certainly tall enough to be one.
But there was something in her soft features and intelligent blue eyes that made Rebecca Dawes more beautiful to Bruce than any model or actress could be. Something kind, familiar, and special to him in a way that no-one else could provide.
And that was why Bruce had to stay away from her.
Alfred disagreed; he believed Bruce could benefit from having Rebecca back in his life to ground him as she always had since they were young. Although that wasn't the argument he'd used against Bruce. Knowing his young master as well as he did, the old butler had instead applied the logical argument that Batman could use another ally.
But Bruce wasn't as sure about drawing Rebecca into his plans. Could he ask her to bear such a heavy burden?
It was different with Alfred, who made taking care of Bruce his top priority. Lucius Fox had been a necessary piece in putting the Batman plan into action; that he was so willing to help despite suspecting the truth had simply been a pleasant surprise. Gordon was another necessary ally, as a prominent but righteous figure in the GCPD.
He would be painting a giant target on her – bigger than the one she already had on her as one of Gotham's best and incorruptible detectives. Could he do that to her?
As Bruce stared at his hands, his mind floated back to a day in his early teens, one of the many he'd spent with Rebecca.
He had been fourteen at the time, and Rebecca twelve. Rachel had stayed with her sickly mother, but Rebecca always came to spend some time with Bruce if she could. They'd been in the library where Rebecca always borrowed a book or two, when Bruce had spoken up.
16 years ago
"Becky?" Bruce asked, and Rebecca hummed as she looked at the books in a section she hadn't read through yet.
"What do you think of the bad people in the world?" Bruce asked out of nowhere, and Rebecca paused.
She glanced back at Bruce, who was staring out the library window to where – she knew – his parents were buried in the Wayne family graveyard. Bruce rarely spoke about the incident, never having been quite the same after his parents' deaths. That, Rebecca thought, was natural – after all, he'd seen a man murder his mother and father in cold blood.
However, she was concerned with the rage and guilt Bruce suppressed no matter how often she and Alfred tried to reach out to him. It wasn't healthy at all, and it often manifested itself in dark moods wherein he spoke about things such as crime and injustice. Such as now.
"I think," Rebecca answered as she came over and sat on the window seat beside her friend, "that bad people are people who were just like us until they choose to do something they shouldn't as human beings."
"You don't think they're just born bad?" Bruce asked, a little bitterly. "That maybe they don't have any cause for redemption because they're just scum from the moment they're born?"
That made Rebecca turn, and she placed her hands on Bruce's knees as she forced the older boy to look her in the eyes.
"It's not a matter of being born good or not." She stated firmly, her blue eyes piercing Bruce's brown ones.
"What sets good and bad people apart… it's not by what we are underneath. It's what we do that defines who we are."
Bruce hadn't replied, and Rebecca had left it at that.
To be honest, the memory had been lost, until that fateful day when Rachel had yelled at Bruce and then dropped him off in front of Falcone's lair.
It had only been then, as he stood ashamed of what he had been planning to do, that Bruce had remembered Rebecca's words.
She had been so young still, but her words were wise – a fact that had surprised her as much as him. He'd seen in her face that she'd been rather proud of what she'd said, of how she had articulated her core beliefs. So much so that it had become a bit of a mantra for her – and Rachel, who'd also been impressed with the idea when Rebecca later shared it with her sister.
Even so, at the time, Bruce hadn't taken Rebecca's words to heart, too bittered by the world.
But standing there after Falcone's men had beat him up, Bruce had remembered, and he had carved her words into his heart – right alongside his feelings for the redhead. Her words had driven him in his training in Tibet, in taking down Ra's al Ghul, and still drove him now as he prepared to watch over Gotham as its protector.
If Bruce truly wanted to live by those words, he was going to have to act like her words never mattered to him in the public eye. To protect those he cared about and himself, he would have to paint Bruce Wayne as the type of billionaire heir Rebecca hated more than anything else (except maybe criminals) in the world in order to keep the suspicions of Batman's identity away from him.
So if he didn't tell her the truth about Batman's identity, Bruce knew he would inevitably lose Rebecca.
But if he told her the truth, he risked putting her in danger.
And Bruce closed his fists as he made his decision. He couldn't do that - not to Becky, not ever. And that left him only one choice.
So long as he was Batman, Rebecca couldn't know. It was for her safety.
With a heavy heart, Bruce finally got up, getting ready to shower before he had to start looking for the right location and suitable date for the evening ahead.
Rebecca was dragging her feet by the time she got back to the apartment she shared with her sister after a long day at work, investigating the Batman and also looking into some other things.
"I'm back." Rebecca called, knowing Rachel would still be up. Her sister had had an engagement with a blind date someone had set her up on, and would only have gotten back an hour ago at the earliest.
Sure enough, Rachel appeared in the bedroom doorway, her hair just blown dry after her shower.
"How was the date?" Rebecca asked as she locked the door before heading into the kitchen for a very late dinner.
"He was boring." Rachel dismissed, following her sister into the kitchen. "But, I ran into… the most unexpected person while I was at the hotel."
"Who?" Rebecca asked, not really paying attention as she rummaged about for some food.
Now, her sister had her full attention.
"You saw Bruce?" Rebecca repeated as she straightened, food forgotten, and she stared at her sister. "At a hotel?"
"I didn't just see him." Rachel informed, her arms folded as her earlier disappointment and anger with their former friend returned. "I ran into him. He was soaking wet – in a full three-piece suit – and leaving with two models, who were also soaked. Apparently, the three of them took a dip in the decorative pool in the restaurant."
Rebecca blinked. And then blinked again.
"This is Bruce Wayne you're talking about, right?" Rebecca checked, and Rachel nodded tightly.
"Not only that, apparently he bought the entire hotel when the staff tried to stop him from getting in the pool." Rachel continued, and Rebecca shook her head.
"No, that's not Bruce." She reasoned, but Rachel answered, her tone softening as her own sorrow surfaced beneath her anger, "I didn't believe it at first either. But… he's changed, Becky. I didn't even see a hint of the boy we knew in the man I met."
Rebecca pursed her lips. While she knew her sister's judgment could hardly be flawed – especially to this extent – Rebecca still found it hard to believe someone could change that drastically. Bruce had always hated how people expected him to be an arrogant snob, though he wasn't above using that 'persona' as they'd called it to irritate the people who annoyed him or Rebecca.
And unless he had a grudge against the whole of Gotham – not very likely, if he was anything like the boy Rebecca knew – then something just wasn't adding up.
"I think I'll go see him tomorrow after all." Rebecca said at last, and Rachel nodded, unsurprised. "I think it's time I straightened out exactly what's going on, both with Bruce and with his friendship with us."
"With you." Rachel corrected shortly. "I can't say I want to stay friends with this man he's become."
Rebecca winced. "It was that bad?"
"Just wait until you see him." Rachel sighed, shaking her head. "And… try not to be too disappointed, Becky. I know how much he meant to you, more so than me."
"I don't actually have a crush on him, Rach." Rebecca sighed, and Rachel countered, "I know you had feelings for Bruce when he left."
"Yes, but then he left." Rebecca pointed out. "And I did move on, despite what you seem to think."
"It's hard to believe when you haven't dated anyone since senior year of high school." Rachel answered dryly, but Rebecca reminded, "Because I was preparing for the police academy. And let's be realistic, I don't see anyone outside of the police officers – I just don't have the time. And you can't honestly say you want me to date anyone from the station."
Rachel grimaced, and Rebecca continued, "The only man there actually worthy of being an officer is Jim Gordon – which is really sad omen for Gotham more than for my love life, when you think about it."
Rachel sighed, and she just said as she went back to her room, "Fine. But you still cared about Bruce, just like I did; so I'm telling you, Becky, just try not to be too disappointed."
Rebecca nodded, though in her mind she was already determined to figure out exactly what was going on with Bruce Wayne. Because her sister just couldn't be right… could she?
When Bruce got back to the Manor late that night, it was suffice to say he was in a foul mood.
"I am going to take a guess, and say that you did not enjoy your evening after all, sir." Alfred noted dryly, seeing the dark shadow on his young master's face.
"It was terrible." Bruce replied flatly. "I think I'm going to have a headache from those two models' incessant and meaningless chatter. I also ended up buying the hotel," Alfred raised a brow, "and I ran into Rachel of all people after making a complete jerk out of myself."
"Ah." Alfred said noncommittally. That explained Bruce's even worse mood than Alfred had anticipated. "At least you did not have to see the younger Miss Dawes in person, sir."
"I didn't have to." Bruce answered darkly. "Rachel's face said it all – I can already picture Becky's face when Rachel tells her about me."
"You knew this was the sacrifice you would have to make, Master Wayne." Alfred reminded him calmly. "Unless you wish to give up your mad plan already?"
"Nice try, Alfred." Bruce answered with a sigh as he turned to head towards the secret base in the cave. "But if this keeps Becky – and Gotham - safe forever, then that's what it's going to have to be."
Alfred sighed but followed Bruce as the younger man moved to get ready for another night as Batman.
Bruce woke up groggily after another long night of chasing the rest of Falcone's drugs. He'd tracked down Flass, but the man's information had only narrowed the possibilities down to –ironically – the Narrows.
After spending the whole night looking, Bruce had been forced to give up for that day as he returned to Wayne Manor, where he promptly fell asleep as the sun was rising. However, it seemed a noise downstairs had woken him up, and Bruce groaned as he turned so that he could go back to sleep. Surely Alfred would handle-
"I'll just be a minute, Alfred. I just need to speak with him!"
Bruce shot upright at that voice, and – hearing footsteps coming closer - he dashed across the room to grab his dressing gown while Alfred protested, "Miss Dawes, Master Wayne is still asleep. If you come back later-"
"I can't, I have work to do. Besides, it really will only take a minute and it's not like I haven't seen him with bedhead before." Rebecca answered as she opened Bruce's bedroom door.
Bruce stood in the middle of the room, having just managed to tie his dressing gown around his waist, and Rebecca raised a brow.
"You're up?" She asked, missing the look of small relief that passed over Alfred's face when the old gentleman saw Bruce had managed to cover up all of his bruises from the previous few nights.
"After the racket you were making? Who wouldn't be?" Bruce joked lightly as he drew his charming smile onto his tired face. "Becky, it's good to see you again."
Rebecca didn't smile back, staring at him for a moment as though she'd gone into shock.
Bruce shot Alfred a quick look, wondering if maybe there was something visible on his face, before looking back to Rebecca as she asked slowly, "Who are you, and where is my best friend?"
"What?" Bruce asked, confused, and Rebecca elaborated, a little sharply, "You never used that fake smile with me before, and you promised me you never would."
The smile instantly dropped from his face, and Bruce sighed.
Yes, he remembered making that promise – but he couldn't keep it anymore. He had an act to play in front of Rebecca; he just hadn't realized how hard it would be to actually follow through on once she was actually in front of him.
"Look, Becky, this just isn't a good time." Bruce said, only half-acting as he played an exhausted rich jerk. "I'm tired."
"From what?" Rebecca asked a little dryly but Bruce could see she was already starting to be disappointed. She'd looked him over, and presented by the false persona he was exuding (as subtly as possible because it was the only way to fool Becky), it was clear that she was starting to doubt herself.
"Well," Bruce answered with a hint of carefully balanced arrogance, "I'm assuming you've heard from Rachel that I was out last night with two very lovely ladies."
Rebecca's eyes narrowed, but Bruce just kept his façade on as he continued, "I'll admit, brunette's not really my type but she was better, shall we say, company than her blonde friend."
"And I'll admit, I didn't really believe Rachel when she said you'd changed." Rebecca said slowly, her brows furrowed. "Even when I found it strange that Alfred was adamant I couldn't see you right now. Now I'm starting to think I should be grateful I didn't find you naked in bed with two women."
"You should be." Bruce replied with acted bluntness. "Although, maybe it would actually be a gift for you to see me naked."
"So, you're saying you spent your night buying a hotel and then having sex with two models you've never met before last night?" Rebecca asked sharply, and Bruce answered with the same bluntness, "No, I'm saying I spent my night having a good f*ck, and don't appreciate you barging in and waking me up so early-"
Bruce didn't move, though he could already feel his cheek starting to heat up as the skin no doubt reddened from the force of Rebecca's slap.
Rebecca's palm was also already red, but she ignored the stinging as she glared up at Bruce while blinking back tears that she adamantly told herself were because of her throbbing hand.
"I don't know what you're trying to pull here." Rebecca said, her voice low and forced even though Bruce could still hear the hurt in it. "But I refuse to believe that the boy I knew is letting himself go like this."
Bruce realized he needed to quickly convince Rebecca that this was who he already was – that he was beyond her saving. Otherwise, she would persist in coming by and trying to help him become the man he could be; the man his parents wanted him to be. A good man.
And he couldn't have her stay. Not if she could get hurt because of it. With a heavy heart, Bruce knew exactly what he had to say to get her to believe his act once and for all.
"It's not what we are underneath," he quoted and he saw the shock register in Rebecca's eyes, "but what we do that defines us."
As Rebecca stared at him, aghast, Bruce continued coolly, "Well, I've decided this is what defines me. I don't see why I should have to continue to play a nice little boy when I can do what I want anyway."
He gestured about him to indicate his wealth, and Rebecca gaped at him.
"I don't… I can't believe what I'm hearing." Rebecca said in a shaking voice. "Who are you?"
"I'm Bruce Wayne." Bruce answered calmly. "As I should have been for years."
"You're wrong." Rebecca shot back. "This isn't you; you're living a lie, Bruce!"
"And you're living in the past." Bruce shrugged. "But if you can't let me go, that's fine. It happens. Just don't be too clingy; it'll ruin my dates, and besides: no-one likes a woman who can't let go."
Rebecca's jaw clenched and she said stiffly, "Rachel was right – you have changed. And I can't say I want to stay friends with who you've become."
Bruce shrugged, ignoring the stab in his heart, while Rebecca stated as she turned to go, "If you decide to wake up and be who your father raised you to be, call me."
"I wouldn't wait if I were you." Bruce called after her, a part of him dying even as he said the words he knew would be like a smack to her face. The words he didn't want to say but knew would be exactly what made her leave him for good.
Sure enough, Rebecca stilled for just a moment before she walked away again while Alfred politely escorted her out. But not before Bruce saw something glistening suspiciously on Rebecca's cheek as she turned around the doorway on her way out of his bedroom.
Bruce turned and threw himself back onto the bed, face down as he listened to the front door slam a few beats later. Alfred returned soon after, and he observed his young master for a moment where Bruce lay sprawled across his covers.
"Well, sir," the butler finally said dryly, "I think you can consider your plan a brilliant success."
"Please, Alfred," Bruce sighed, "just… not right now."
Alfred sighed, but nodded as he left the room, closing the door softly as he let Bruce nurse his own heartbreak in privacy.