‘‘Does it ever go away?’’
The sudden question jerks Bruce out of his thoughts. Placing the book he was attempting to read on his lap, he looks at Duke, patiently waiting for him to clarify what he means.
‘‘The guilt. I can’t help but feel that what happened to my parents was my fault.’’ Gingerly moving away from the doorway, Duke sits on the armrest of the couch, nervously glancing at Bruce, while waiting for the man to respond.
However, Bruce doesn’t say anything. For what feels like the longest two minutes of Duke’s life, the older man just looks at him, as if he was trying to decipher an incredibly advanced riddle. Eventually, he places the book on the coffee table as he slowly rises from the couch.
‘‘It wasn’t your fault, Duke.’’ To say that Duke was both relieved and surprised by Bruce’s response would be an understatement. Though simple, those words actually seemed to wash away all of Duke’s guilt and apprehension at once, but as reassuring as they were, those kind words also managed to confuse him more than ever.
‘‘I will see to it myself that your parents will receive the best care possible.’’ Deep down Duke knew that he wasn’t the one at fault. No one could have predicted what happened that day. The Joker was the only one to blame for what had happened to his parents. Yet, as relieved as Bruce’s response had made him it wasn’t enough. Instead of guilt, now, a nagging sense of regret seemed to have invaded his mind and heart.
‘‘But does it go away? Bruce, please, I need to know how to go on from here.’’ Again, Bruce seemed to only stare at him. A soul-piercing kind of stare that would prompt even Superman to look away, but Duke needed to know. At last, a tired sigh left Bruce’s lips and he motions for Duke to follow him down to the batcave.
Once ingulfed in the familiar darkness of the cave Bruce seems less tense. Strange. Duke had never been too interested in capes and the world of heroes and villains and now, suddenly, he is placed right in the middle of the eternal struggle between good and evil. As The Signal he now serves besides Batman as a defender of Gotham. Bruce, Alfred and the rest of the Bats have made Duke feel both welcome and accepted. With them he feels needed and wanted. They have trained him, taught him how to juggle his different identities, but most importantly they have given him a new home.
‘‘The guilt you are feeling is natural. Something very traumatic happened to you... But despite that you have chosen not to give in to the darkness. Instead, as The Signal you have turned the darkness into a shining light, into hope for Gotham’s citizens to prevent something like what happened to your parents to happen ever again.’’ Digesting Bruce’s answer Duke found himself humbled when reminded of his origin, the origin of the great Bat. If anyone knows loss, guilt and regret it’s Bruce Wayne. Still, he didn’t answer the actual question though.
‘‘But does it go away?’’ Yet again, Bruce just looks at him before something changes in his eyes. For a split second he looks almost mournful. But as soon as Duke had registered the emotion it had gone away, replaced by an unreadable expression.
‘‘No.’’ Slightly taken aback, Duke feels a knot form in his stomach. Would he have to live with this guilt the rest of his life then? Of course, guilt and regret are what fuels most of the heroes in Gotham. It’s a source of their determination and strength as they power through the hurt and tragedy to protect others. To prevent others from becoming like them.
‘‘You have to let go of the past and move forward, Duke. It’s all any of us can.’’