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Sons

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Three days after Damian’s death, on a cold and unwelcoming Monday morning, Alfred Pennyworth found a rather unusual letter addressed to Bruce Wayne in a pile of random frivolities that even he wouldn’t bother to read. The unusual letter was encased in a large manila envelope, the lettering on it obviously a child’s hand, neat but by no stretch of imagination beautiful and practiced. The return address was curiously a PO box in Fawcett City. Alfred frowned, and decided to take a chance; it could be important.

After running the letter through X-ray for booby traps and explosives and a radiation bath to kill all biological material, Alfred finally opened the envelope. There was another regular sized sealed envelope inside, also addressed to Bruce Wayne but obviously by a different hand. Along with the sealed envelope, there was another sheet of paper and two photographs, showing a very young Bruce Wayne hugging a blue-eyed beauty against the backdrop of exotic and grand mountain sceneries. Central Asia, somewhere off the Himalayas, perhaps? Alfred frowned; he had a faint suspicion of where this letter was headed. He unfolded the sheet of paper and began to read.

 

“Dear Mr. Wayne:

I am sorry about bothering you, and I know this will seem weird, but it’s important and I hope you will hear me out.

I think you know my mom, Marilyn Batson, or Marilyn Ordway before she married. By the looks of the photos you two were good friends.”

 

So a child wrote the opening statement too. Alfred was beginning to find the whole thing distasteful and almost wanted to stop reading, but kept going out of respect for his duty.

“My mom passed away three years ago, but I just got some of her things recently. I found her old books and notes, photos, and a letter addressed to you.
I don’t remember hearing my mom talk about you, sir, but maybe I was too small. I don’t know if you two are still friends, or if you had a fight or something, but I hope not. My mom is gone forever now, and I hope her friends will remember the good things about her. So I am sending you her letter and two photos. I hope you don’t mind me sending only two photos, but I thought maybe you have those already, and I would like to keep more pictures of my mom.

Thank you, sir, and I hope you have a good day.

Yours sincerely
William Joseph Batson

PS: I don’t think you would want to, but even if you do, please don’t write back to the return address; I don’t think it will reach me. I don’t really have a fixed address, sorry about that.”

 

Alfred blinked; this was not quite what he expected. The child sounded so genuine and artless. He looked at the yellowing photos carefully, trying to ascertain the expression on young Bruce Wayne’s face. What could this old letter from an old… flame, for the lack of a better word, contain? Maybe he will just let Bruce find out for himself. But if there was any chance that this letter contained the kind of claim he expect, waiting for Bruce to deal with it might not be the best plan, especially considering there might be an orphaned child at stake. Alfred sat there, pondering in silence for a long time, before finally reaching for the letter opener with a sigh.

As soon as he opened the age old unsent letter, a small, sealed plastic bag containing a lock of black hair tumbled out. Alfred rubbed his eyes tiredly. God forbid, the small chance this turned out to be exactly what he feared it would be! Indeed the letter contained some polite and quite distant greetings, and then the blunt statement Bruce has a son—one whom he will probably never see because the child belongs to another happy family. The whole thing was not long, but intelligent and heartfelt, with a well-crafted intensity that left no room for disagreement.

 

“I wouldn’t say what we shared was nothing, Bruce, it would not be fair to either of us. We were two Caucasians in Nepal, we were lonely and we both needed someone, I the overwrought grad student drowning in the grief of someone else’s war, and you the billionaire vagabond wandering the world with god-knows-what vendetta on your shoulders. I liked you, and I hope you liked me enough, but we weren’t meant for raising a child together. We still aren’t. Even if this letter actually reaches you, such will not come to pass. We will not be raising this child together.

My husband urged me to send this letter, he said a man has right to know of his child, especially when he has done nothing to warrant ignorance. My husband is the best of men and he always tries to do the right thing, so at his urging I am writing this letter. But I still don’t know if I will send it. I know you are a family man deep down and you crave for the true love of kinship. Back in Nepal, in those rare moments when you let your guard down and showed me true feelings, I picked up that burning desire in you. I know you want someone on whom to shower your affections and ameliorate your regrets, and a biological son would be such an easy choice, wouldn’t it? Almost obligatory.

But no, Bruce. I don’t want you in my life, and I don’t want you in the life of my child. Your intensity always frightened me a little, but this is not really about you. It’s simply that my life is perfectly in order right now, and my child already has the most loving family in the world, and I want nothing to interfere with that. I am not ready to have you fight me on this, especially not against the kind of lawyers your fortune can buy.

I have a distinct feeling this letter will never make its way out of the door, after all.

But just in case it does, the boy’s name is William Joseph Batson. His birthday is January 24, 2003, and he is a healthy six-month old baby. I have included a lock of his hair with the letter. No, you cannot run a DNA test with that hair; if you don’t believe my claims, do not contact me for further proof and just let it go. I would be grateful, in fact.”

 

Alfred put the ten-year old letter down and drew a staggering breath. He suddenly noticed that his hands were shaking. He, Alfred Pennyworth, the ever serene and dependable rock of this dysfunctional household, he was shaking. This was simply too much. Bruce would not be able to deal with this, not now, only three days after Damian’s death, not even for another few months or years. Alfred could not deal with it either, and for one brief minute he was sorely tempted to burn the letter and forget he ever saw such a thing.

The old butler stood up, poured himself a glass of brandy and drank it slowly.

Had the sudden surfacing of this unsent letter been any other way, Alfred would certainly drop the whole issue for now, give Bruce and himself time to heal and to prepare, before trying to figure out the truth. But something about the letter sounded off enough alarm bells. So the mother passed away three years ago, but why did the child say he only received his mother’s things now? What happened? Where is the father (or perhaps he should say, step father)? And most importantly, why does the boy not have a fixed address? One can only draw so many conclusions from such details—unhappy foster care, abuse, fallen through the cracks of the system, all that grim reality life has to offer.

After finishing another glass of brandy Alfred fished out a list of private investigators from his desk. These PIs were the top of their trade and came with personal recommendations from his various sources. He spent the rest of the day picking out a name, setting up an appointment, and explaining in a completely detached manner the issue at hand. He spared all details, but since he was requesting the investigation of a minor, the basic skeleton of the story still had to come out. The private investigator, a middle-aged Ms. Lee known for her superior skills and steely discretion, nodded at the end of Alfred’s tale.

“This case looks straightforward enough, I will check up on the child,” Ms. Lee said in a no-nonsense voice, “I understand the difficulty lies in the need for absolute secrecy, which you can depend on, Mr. Pennyworth. I will report to you in a week of my progress.”

In exactly a week’s time precise to the minute Alfred was in Ms. Lee’s office again, listening to her report.

“William Joseph Batson, son to C. C. Batson, archaeologist, and Marilyn Batson, political scientist, both associate professors at University of Michigan. He was orphaned at age seven when both parents died in an accident at a dig site in Egypt, and lived with the only remaining relative, a cousin of Mr. Batson’s, for a while. There are three records of running away from home with the Family court in the span of a year, before he dropped out of the system and was never heard of in records again. I should mention that the Batsons had a fairly flush saving account, but not the proper trusteeship; all their wealth now belongs to Mr. Batson’s cousin.

I have tailed the child for the past five days. He lives on the street, delivers newspaper and collects recyclables to support himself, and he still attends school, even if somewhat erratically. Based on my observations I would say he is generally healthy, if slightly malnourished, and I am confident he is not involved with drugs or gang activities. Here is a list of all locations he sleeps at, and a folder containing all files under his name. This is a blood sample I obtained under the guise of a health worker.”

Alfred surveyed the neat files and items in front of him, and commented, “You are certainly effective and efficient, Ms. Lee.”

The investigator gave a small wave of her hand and said, “As I mentioned when I first heard the case, Mr. Pennyworth, it was quite straight forward.” She took a long pause here, before beginning again with a hint of rare hesitation, “Mr. Pennyworth, I hope you will not find my remarks unprofessional and rude, but if I may say so…?”
Alfred nodded and gestured for her to continue.

“I have never seen a child like this one before,” Ms. Lee pushed her glasses, “All alone in the world, lost in the urban slum, yet somehow he managed to keep himself afloat and above all the drugs, gangs, and prostitution rings plaguing the underbelly of any city. He is quite the boy scout, and extremely fortunate for remaining one despite everything. I for one would not want to test my luck and see how long he can last.”

That evening Alfred went down to the Batcave again, hoping to cajole Bruce out of there and get the DNA analysis started, without Bruce noticing, of course. It was the third day since Bruce sat himself down in front of the computer and began the virtual simulations. He would throw himself into the again and again into the confrontation that killed Damian, trying to find a way to save his little boy. So far Bruce had failed, failed, and failed again. Almost expectedly, Bruce had turned a deaf ear to Alfred’s pleas. Sighing, Alfred prepared a fresh pot of tea and left it on the small side table near Bruce, and went into the corner with all the forensics equipment.
The DNA analysis was easy, but the waiting and planning almost too painful to bear. While he sat there in the dark corner of the cave, staring at the machines softly humming, Alfred could not distract himself from the myriad of thoughts that assailed him like a flood. What if this boy really was Bruce’s son? Surely he could not let the child continue go on living on the street, but how can he bring another boy into the Wayne manor? Never mind Bruce, even he could not bear it. And the cave, it would not be easy to hide it from someone living in the manor. Now if only the child wasn’t Bruce’s, things would certainly be easier, but perhaps for the sake of Bruce’s old friend he should do something about this William boy… So lost in thoughts, Alfred did not even notice Bruce finally emerging from his virtual crusade and walking up behind him.

“Alfred?” Bruce asked, “What are you doing here?”

Alfred stood up hastily and drew a quick breath to reorient himself, before replying in his usual voice, “I see you are finally giving the simulations a rest, Master Bruce.”

“I have no plan to starve myself,” Bruce said briskly, his brow furrowing, “What exactly are you doing, Alfred? Is that… DNA analysis? What for?”

Just then a ringing sound from the machines behind them signaled the completion of the analysis. The result chart rolled itself across screen automatically. Alfred sneaked a quick glance, and saw the bottom line: Combined Paternity Index = 730,310; Probability of Paternity: 99.999%. The old man closed his eyes tiredly for a brief moment.

“Alfred.” Bruce said, voice falling back into the Batman growl and blue eyes burning, the shadows under his eyes now seemed even more prominent. He enunciated each word slowly and deliberately, “Alfred, this is a paternity test. I know those alleles numbers on the left are mine. Tell me what is going on.”

Alfred sighed again and cleared his throat. “I have received a letter recently, Master Bruce, written a decade ago but never sent out until now, from a woman named Marilyn Batson, nee Ordway,” Alfred watched his employer very carefully as he finished the story, “The letter was about her son, who was born on January 24, 2003.”