It had been another night, another city, another enemy goading him onward, taunting him with everything that he had lost, with everything he yet stood to lose. In his mind, he could still hear Blockbuster in the stairwell of the Haven Hotel. "I'll take out the people you care about… Hell, even strangers you stand next to on the street… you won't be able to shake someone's hand without marking them for death! Do you like being alone, Dick?" He had screamed at Rolly to shut up, but the Bludhaven crime boss had been relentless. And then, he had heard another voice, from the stairs below them, behind Rolly…
"Get out of the way, Nightwing. All you have to do is get out of my way."
He hadn't wanted Blockbuster dead, not really. Not that he would have been broken up were the Bludhaven Bugle to report that Desmond had been found floating face-down in the river, of course. But he hadn't wanted the man dead. 'Shoot or watch,' Barbara had said before. He had done neither. He had moved out of Tarantula's line of fire, and turned his back on the pair of them. And she had pulled the trigger. And suddenly, it hadn't mattered that Desmond had been cutting a bloody swath through every friend that Dick had made since relocating to Bludhaven. Dick had been the only thing keeping Roland Desmond alive, and walking away had killed him as surely as if Dick had held the gun, himself.
"Batman! Move out of the way. You're blocking my shot." This time, the voice was coming from behind him. He recognized it easily. Under the steely resolve, he could still detect a faint quiver of rage, and a trace of near-hysteria.
"Put the gun down, Detective Chandler," Dick said, without turning around. "You're playing into his hands."
"I've got six shots in here," Chandler said steadily. "If you don't step aside, I have no problem using one of them to drop you. Move. Unless you want to gamble that your costume's still bullet-proof at point-blank range."
He'd been shot before. He hadn't cared for the experience. Dick knew that he should act as he had been trained to do: preserve human life-any human life, even if he had to give up his own in the process. That was what Bruce had instilled in him, nearly from the day that he had come to live at the manor. Bruce wasn't here, though. Thanks to the self-satisfied bandage-wrapped man standing eleven stairs above him, Bruce was out of commission. And, if matters were up to Dick… Should he really sacrifice himself to save Elliot? Maybe. If it would actually save him. But, it wouldn't. If he chose not to move out of the way, Chandler would fire on him, and once he was down, she'd move on to Elliot.
Would it be the lesser evil to give his life, knowing all the while that it would be a useless gesture… or would it be better to accept that some people could not be saved, that some people were not worth saving, and to cut his losses accordingly? Chandler was a cop. She was allowed to carry a gun. And, from what Dick had seen and heard tonight, Hush had destroyed her as neatly as he had Bruce. She had almost as much reason as he did to want the man dead. And yes, if he had to be completely honest with himself, right at this precise moment in time, he did want Elliot permanently… out of the way. But not like this. "You sure you want to do things this way, Chandler?" He asked.
"I'm a police officer. He's resisting arrest. And we both know he's got a gun. Somehow, I don't see IA getting too upset over this one." Or, they wouldn't, Romy realized, if not for her fingerprints on the Desoxyn. Hush's fault, she seethed. "Last chance."
Dick had never asked Catalina her reasons for shooting Desmond. He hadn't had to. She'd been working for the man, and had been trying to terminate their association. She had blamed Desmond for corrupting her brother, although Dick had to wonder just how unwilling an employee Matteo Flores had actually been. And, much as it horrified him, Catalina had killed Desmond, at least partly… for him. She had been so eager to demonstrate that her loyalty was to him, and not to Blockbuster-and by her own actions, she had demonstrated, conversely that they were not on the same side. And yet he had felt guilty, because he had walked away from Desmond, lending tacit approval to her actions. He had felt guilty, because he had his suspicions that she had killed, partly in an attempt to impress him, and prove her fighting prowess. And, he had felt guilty… because, when he realized that she hadn't, he had let the matter slide.
Now, similarly, he had no need to ask Detective Chandler for her reasons. From the conversation that Dick had overheard earlier, Elliot had manipulated her, toyed with her emotions, and coldly manoeuvred her into making the moves that he required of her, in order to launch an attack on Bruce. And Chandler was angry, frightened, betrayed, hurt… this was starting to sound familiar.
He took a step backwards, and then locked eyes with Hush. To his astonishment, there was no apprehension on the older man's face. Instead, he saw a slight triumphant smile. What was Elliot thinking? …And all at once, it hit him. If Hush's goal is to utterly destroy Bruce, then… He saw it. And it wasn't going to work.
"The stair's too narrow, Detective," he said, not taking his eyes off of Hush. "I won't be able to get around you. Back down so I can follow."
Silence. Then slow, deliberate footfalls told him that she was complying. "Your turn," she said grimly after she had descended five steps. "For every step you take, I'll take another one."
Batman backed down, never taking his eyes off Hush. He forced himself to remember his feelings during his brief stint with the Jersey mob: the self-loathing, the guilt, and the sense of resignation-he had genuinely believed that he had no other choice back then. Don't dwell on your mistakes. Don't excuse them. But always try to take away something that you've learned from them. Bruce's lessons? Yes, in part. There was a lot of Bruce in him… but those instructions resonated within his consciousness, finding and striking a strong internal cord. He had tried to make himself believe once that he was whom he was, solely due to his mentor's incessant drillings, that without them, he would have ended up dead or in prison a long time ago. Bruce's influence was a factor, a huge factor… but there was more to Dick than Bruce. There always had been.
The world shrank down to the size of the stairwell, as Elliot's eyes took on a gleam of satisfaction. Dick could see it, now. The grand master, ruthlessly drawing up war plans—not contingency plans, such as Bruce had devised in reaction to a potential worst-case scenario—these were primary battle plans. That's what he had done the first time, too: launched an unprovoked attack to catch them all off-guard, followed by a carefully orchestrated strategy, wherein he had manipulated enemies and allies alike—as though they were no more than pawns on a chessboard. Bruce and I are more alike than we sometimes want to admit. And we both have that tendency to hold ourselves accountable for other people's actions.
The universe expanded again, as Chandler advanced, revolver held steady before her. She was two paces behind him, then one, then a half… As she was about to pass him, Batman's hand shot out, pinning her wrist, and forcing the gun barrel to point upwards at a 45-degree angle. Chandler cried out in sudden pain, as the weapon was forced from her grasp.
"What do you think you're doing?" She snapped.
Batman shot her a quick look. "Queening a pawn," he replied grimly, as he pointed the gun again at Hush.
"You wanted me to let her shoot you," Dick said coldly. "That's Kevlar under the trench coat, isn't it?"
Elliot smiled faintly. "Close enough. It's strong enough to withstand armor-piercers, as well."
"You're gambling she'd be aiming for your torso."
"Please," Hush said casually, "you know what they teach you at the police academy: aim for the largest target. Torso over head over extremity, any day of the week. It was worth the risk. So, now that you know my little secret, what are you going to do about it? If you bring me in… I know a few things about psychological evaluations. I'll allow myself to be committed to Arkham, and then…" a nasty smile suddenly appeared on his face… "Well, you'll never know when something else is going to happen to poor old Brucie. He's already going to Arkham until the trial. It might be interesting to speculate on what could happen were… say… several cell doors at that worthy asylum to be left mysteriously unlocked one night."
Dick went deathly pale. "You can't."
Elliot chortled. "Perhaps you're right." His head jerked up, abruptly. "Did you ever wonder how Blockbuster found out that you caused the traffic jam in which his mother suffered a fatal heart attack?"
"Or why a certain mutual acquaintance had the presence of mind to slip you a business card while you were… ahem… voluntarily detained in BPD holding?"
His thoughts began to spin. "You're lying."
"Maybe." Hush shrugged. "You had a good idea, you know. Sooner or later, Bruce was going to find out that you'd turned yourself in, and when he did, it would definitely have been a blow to him. But once he did become aware, he would have moved heaven and earth to get you freed. However, if you truly had become a criminal… I might not have had to organize the old man's kidnapping." His tone was conversational. "Your perfidy alone would probably have been enough to break my old friend. Think," he said mockingly. "Had you remained with the mob, your family might actually have been better off."
"You're insane." His mind was reeling. Had Hush truly been setting Bruce up all those months ago? "Did you tell Black Mask how to take control of the mob, too?"
"I'll make things easy for you," Elliot replied. "I took advantage of every opportunity I had. Sometimes, events just fell into place. Sometimes, I had to nudge them along. Maybe I was the one who made the suggestion that Sionis invite Tevis back to Gotham. Maybe I put the contract on your former Captain. It could have been my bullet that hit your shoulder. Almost anything in life is possible. For another example, it's possible, hypothetically speaking, of course, that, when I was ten, I stole and pawned a pair of earrings, which my mother seldom wore, and used the proceeds to take out a contract on a doctor and his wife… parents of one of my school friends, incidentally." He shrugged. "Maybe I've built a time machine, and gone back to kidnap the Lindberg baby. They never really solved that one. But that's all past, if you'll… ah… pardon the pun. As you ought to, considering the vast number of them that you once uttered."
Batman ignored the barb. "And you did all this… because you could?"
Hush shrugged. "Bruce proved, the last couple of times that he could beat me. I needed to know that I had improved since our last encounter."
"Do you hate him that much?"
Hush looked surprised. "Actually, I admire him. He who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god. If Bruce is neither, I think we can both agree in principle that he's closer to the second extreme. I might have been the first to pit myself against him, when we were children. Perhaps it's only fitting that I be the last."
"You haven't won, yet," Dick snarled.
"I think I will. You don't have many options. Bring me in, and Bruce dies. Maybe not right away… I'm fairly sure the staff will take adequate precautions, but sooner or later, the opportunity will present itself. Let me walk away, and I'll see to it that every potential ally you might have in any city will be aware of that detail. Kill me and you're likely to kill Bruce as well, once he finds out." He smiled. "So where does that leave you?"
"Bruce is a lot stronger than you give him credit for."
Hush raised his hands expansively. "He's already lost his oldest friend, and his youngest son… twice. The woman who became the closest thing he had to a mother after his parents died has betrayed every ideal that she once held dear, and that he admired in her. When you betray everything he made that costume stand for, what will that do to him, I wond—Ahhhh!"
The batarang sliced into his upraised right palm with a sickening splutch, and enough force to pin the appendage to the wall behind him. Caught off-balance, Hush staggered, as his weight pulled on the immobilized hand, enlarging the wound. He slapped his other hand against the wall to steady himself.
Without hesitation, Dick threw a second batarang to penetrate Hush's left hand. The large man stared at him, eyes wide with shock and pain. "What have you done?"
"What you did to Bruce," Dick said coldly. "Destroyed you. I wouldn't struggle too much. You'll only cause more tissue damage. Somehow, I don't think you'll be able to perform surgery with those hands again." He pointed the gun at Elliot's lower leg, reveling in the look of fear now on Hush's face. A bullet to the shin might leave him in a physical state similar to Bruce's. And in the short term, it would put more weight still on the man's hands, increasing the damage sustained. It would be so easy. Too easy, he realized. On second thought, he had a better idea. He advanced toward the pinioned surgeon. "I want you," he gritted "to get one thing clear. At this point in time, I have only one reason to keep you alive, the one you knew damn well when you set this whole thing up: Bruce wouldn't like it if I killed you. So now, your life depends on his. You make good on what you threatened, and if I have to build a spy satellite to find you, I will. From this moment forward, if anything happens to him while he's in custody, I'm holding you accountable. If you're as good at long-term planning and manipulation as you've claimed, I'm going to believe what you wanted me to believe a minute ago: that it was all part of your plan. Do you understand me, Elliot? If Joker hurts him… I hurt you. If Zsasz kills him, you'd better pray I've gotten past Bruce's scruples, because as you've just found out… there are worse things I can do to you than kill you. Don't give me a reason."
He waited for Hush to nod, before turning his back on the man. Silently, he unloaded the revolver before he handed it back to Detective Chandler.
She accepted it. "Batman," she asked, "are you…"
He shook himself. "I think so," he said in a normal tone of voice. "Where's…" He glanced over to where Robin sat, leaning against the wall. The gauze that Dick had given him had become saturated by blood, and the younger vigilante was now pressing his cape against the wound. Dick bent over him.
"You're not going to like this," he said gently, "but that needs stitches." He extracted a small bottle of alcohol and a needle and filament from one of the pouches of his belt."
Tim gaped at him. "You know how to sew?"
"Well enough for this. I'm guessing at some point in your training, Bruce taught you pain control techniques. Now," he said, as he sprayed the area with a topical anesthetic, "would be a good time to use them, because this might not be enough on its own."
Romy stood apart, watching, as Batman stitched the wound shut. The boy flinched each time the needle went in, but he never cried out.
"How are we supposed to get out of here?" Romy asked, once he had finished. "They've got this place surrounded."
Batman glanced at Robin. The boy nodded and gestured toward one of the windows facing on the river. Batman beckoned to Romy to follow him. She did so. Looking out the window, she could see a small craft tethered to a dock piling.
"They'll be watching the waterfront, too," She protested.
"Then, we'll give them a good show," Batman said grimly.
"I can't let Robin jump rooftops in his current condition. And I can't ask you to, either."
She thought of something else. "Security cameras. They probably caught the whole thing. And they'll see…"
"No, they won't," Robin spoke up, suddenly. "What they're getting off of the video feeds out there… it's um… transmission delayed for final edit." He exchanged a quick glance with Batman.
"Then why bother at all?" Romy frowned.
"What happened last summer… we didn't want to run the risk of your people charging into a lot of guys with Teflon-coated bullets. All those armor-piercing shells? Whatever's not on the streets is either in the guns I confiscated from those creeps downstairs, or it's in the basement. Hush had other ideas when he set up the feed, of course."
"It was Hu—"
Batman flinched. Elliot had tried to goad him into committing murder. And, had everything gone according to plan… When all of this was over and done with, he was definitely going to contact Wonder Woman and try to listen to her side of the Maxwell Lord matter with an open mind.
"FBW?" Oracle's voice came over his comlink. "Is everything okay? Because Gotham's Finest seems to be getting ready to move in."
Dick nodded. He turned to Romy. "How many cops on dry land?"
Romy considered. "Probably thirty. I don't know, exactly."
"And watching the water?"
"Eight," she admitted.
"That's why we're going to take the water route. Preferably before they lose patience and come storming in. Let's go."
An hour and a half later, a non-descript black car deposited Romy Chandler on the front steps of the brownstone residence she called home. Her mind was reeling as she turned her key in the front door lock, and trudged the three flights of stairs up to her apartment. A somewhat rotund figure in a trench coat, who was sitting in the hallway outside her door rose at her approach.
"What do you want, Lippman?" Romy asked wearily. After the events of the last six hours, she had virtually no interest in anything other than a long hot bath, and possibly the last few hours of sleep in her own bed before IA hauled her off to the Schreck.
"Your side," the reporter stated simply.
"Look," Simon Lippman explained, "I admit I don't know you that well, Detective Chandler, but from what I've seen, and," he said sheepishly, "from what I've picked up from the squad room chatter on my way into Captain Sawyer's office, I think you're probably a little too smart to dispose of incriminating evidence, like a pill card, in the wastepaper basket of the same hospital where your target was a patient, when your apartment building has an incinerator at the end of the hall." He pointed to the small trapdoor set roughly four feet up from the floor beneath a notice that warned residents not to dump their trash between the hours of eleven p.m. and seven a.m. "So. It is now 2:20 a.m. The paper goes to bed at 4. And I can be a very fast typist when I have to be. Do I have to be?"
Romy hesitated. "I'll need a minute to put some coffee on."
Akins entered Gotham Central at eight a.m. the next morning. The police commissioner had slept poorly, and when he had awoken, it had been to nightmarish headlines:
Batman and Robin elude police siege. Black Mask found dead at scene. Disgraced surgeon left for GCPD
Wayne attacks hospital staff after consuming drugged food. Commissioner suspends detective suspect.
Accused Detective Speaks Out (Exclusive interview, Page 3)
Batman evades 40-cop stakeout and still catches perp! Taxpayers' coalition questions Akins' effectiveness
His eyes widened at the next entry: Mayor's office comes clean on Lexcorp kickbacks
If Mayor Hull was admitting to that openly…
"Sir?" A new receptionist greeted him nervously at the front desk. It looked as though Personnel had finally hired someone permanently, after over 4 months of support staffers from other departments filling in.
Akins forced himself to smile. "Yes, Ms…"
"Michaela Wood, Commissioner. The… the mayor's office has left five messages for you." She handed him several squares of paper. He accepted them with a sigh. He had a feeling he knew what the mayor wanted, this time.
Bruce awoke to a sour taste in his mouth. His tongue felt like cotton. He tried to raise a hand to rub the sleep from his eyes, and found that he could not. He tried the other hand and met the same results. He struggled to sit up, and just barely managed to see the leather strap, which stretched across his chest and over his forearms.
"H-" His voice was little more than a croak. "Hello?" he called out.
Immediately, somebody thrust a drinking straw between his lips, and Bruce gulped the water gratefully.
"Take it easy," Gordon's voice said gently. "You had a rough night of it."
Had he? "Not… another nightmare." In front of the guard detail. He closed his eyes. That was all he needed. One more weakness revealed: Batman has nightmares. "So…" he sighed, resigned, "more sedatives."
There was a long pause. "I'm afraid so."
Just when it was getting easier to think, too. And Arkham, Bruce realized unhappily, was likely to be more of the same, only worse. How was he going to be able to defend himself when, not if, Joker or Scarecrow attacked him? His muscles were weakening daily, due to lack of use. It was going to require major physical therapy once the cast came off. And just how eager were the doctors at Arkham going to be to help him get back into physical shape? More troubling at the moment, though, why was he currently in restraints?
"Rae coming today?" He asked.
"Rae?" Gordon sounded surprised. "You mean your lawyer? I don't know. Why?"
"Can't move," Bruce explained. "Any time she's coming, they… strap me down. I thought…"
Gordon's voice was suddenly tired. "No, Bruce. As far as I know, she isn't. I'm sorry to be the one to tell you this, but I thought you'd rather hear it from a friend." He paused, trying to think how to explain.
Gordon drew a deep breath. "As near as I understand it… it seems that somebody put a-a stimulant into your food. It counteracted your sedatives." He waited for his words to sink in. "It also gave you some… fairly violent… dreams last night."
"Violent?" Bruce repeated. "What did I-"
"And so," Gordon continued, softly, "the doctor decided that, given what you're capable of doing while you're asleep, he had no choice but to order… that you be kept under restraint," he forced himself to finish the sentence, loathing every word of it, "for the duration of your stay in this hospital."
Bruce tried to keep his face impassive, but Gordon saw the mask slip. "What did I do?" He asked finally.
"It doesn't matter," Gordon said. "You weren't in control. You weren't responsible. I know you didn't intend…"
Bruce's eyes narrowed. "Jim. Where are you?"
"I… I'm right here." His voice was suddenly nervous.
"Let me see you, Jim." Bruce demanded. "Let me see your face."
"I hurt you. Didn't I?"
"How badly? Jim, please! I have to know. I-" Bruce gasped as the former commissioner's face moved abruptly into his line of vision. A deep purple bruise covered almost the entire right side. A brace protected his right wrist.
"You weren't yourself," Gordon said firmly. "The medication… you weren't responsible…"
Another time, not so long ago… Superman had come to him in the cave. Ostensibly, to see how Bruce was feeling. Actually, the Man of Steel had been looking for forgiveness, for beating Bruce nearly to death when Maxwell Lord took control of his mind. Bruce had tried to avoid a direct answer. The conversation had gone downhill from there. Superman had asked him about Brother I—his spy satellite gone rogue, no longer under his control. Bruce had not responded. What could he have said, beyond the obvious—another tool he had created to defend himself should the League ever betray its principles. Another tool had fallen into the wrong hands. Superman had guessed.
"That's the problem with not trusting anyone: it makes it impossible for them to trust you!"
Bruce's immediate retort had been "Less than eighteen hours ago, you almost killed me. Less than a week ago, Superboy almost killed the Teen Titans. Do you really want to lecture me about trust right now?"
As if in a dream, Bruce again heard Clark protest. "We're not responsible for…"
…And his own merciless rejoinder: "You're the most powerful man on Earth! You don't get the luxury of that excuse!"
If only he could take back those words. The instant that he'd uttered them, he'd known that he hadn't meant them. He'd only wanted Superman to know that he needed more time before he'd be able to forgive. Clark had just had to push the issue. Yes. Of course. It was all Clark's fault he'd responded that way. Bruce wasn't at all responsible for his own actions. And… the chilling thought wormed its way into his mind. Did not being 'the most powerful man on Earth' in any way give him a free pass? Or, to rephrase, had he awoken to find Jim dead at his hands, would he have dared to ask—much less expect—Barbara to forgive him? It didn't matter that he hadn't succeeded. What mattered was that he had tried.
Snips and snatches of his dream returned. He remembered. Akins had called him… a menace… in his dream… and in a press conference almost a year earlier. Akins… was right. If Bruce could do… what he had done to Jim… then, Akins was right. And if Bruce was a menace, then… he needed to be shut away. He would shut himself away. Slowly, Bruce sifted back through his memories. His parents. Alfred. Dick. Jason. Tim. Barbara. Jim. Selina. Jean-Paul. Vesper. Stephanie. And the others. The last time he had abandoned Bruce Wayne, he had allowed himself one final tour through the manor before exiting via the cave. This time… it would be a mental journey, but, like the previous one, he intended it to be a one-way trip. Unlike the previous leave-taking, though, this time, he wanted as many memories as he could take. They would sustain him where he was going. They would have to.
Gordon told Dick later, that he could almost pinpoint the instant that Bruce had withdrawn. As if a curtain had fallen across his eyes, some minute glimmer of awareness, of intellect, that had been there a moment before was suddenly snuffed out as though it had never been. And Bruce might as well have been a deaf man for all the effect that Gordon's entreaties had had.
Mayor Hull didn't wait for Akins to be seated. No sooner did the door to his inner office close behind the commissioner than he began: "I just want to be clear, Mike that this has noth-what's this?" He asked as Akins handed him a sealed, legal-sized envelope.
"My letter of resignation, Mister Mayor." At Hull's startled expression, Akins continued. "That is why you asked me here, this morning, isn't it?"
Hull hesitated for a moment, just long enough for Akins to think that maybe he'd read the signs wrong. That perhaps, Hull's coming clean on Lexcorp of his own volition had resulted from a crisis of conscience and had nothing to do with the threat that Akins had dangled over his head months earlier.
It had been right after the mob war, when Akins ordered the Signal taken down. When Hull threatened to fire him if the signal weren't replaced, Akins had threatened to blow the lid on Hull's jaunt to the Caymans, financed by Luthor's old company. That round went to the commissioner. But by admitting to the scandal now, of his own free will, after having recently won re-election, by offering a full apology to the people of Gotham, Hull was going to come out of this stronger than before… and Akins had no leverage.
"Mr. Mayor?" He asked again.
Hull nodded, slowly. "Yeah, Mike. That's why I asked you."
Akins nodded defeated. "I'll… have my office cleared out by five, then," he said, turning around.
"Mike?" Akins waited, hand on the doorknob. "You're a good cop, Mike. I mean that. But this is a bad city. Sometimes, it needs unofficial backup."
Akins looked back over his shoulder. "That's your opinion, Mr. Mayor." Then he pulled open the door, and walked out.
Romy put the final touches on her formal request for a leave of absence. The last few months had been difficult. Were she to remain, the next few weeks would be worse. Between the accusations, the fact that she had spoken with the press, the way Elliot had duped her… maybe she was running away from her problems. At the moment, she didn't particularly care. She needed to get out of Gotham.
There was another matter, as well. Last night, she had heard the exchange between Batman and Elliot. Marcus had been right, weeks ago. Gotham needed Batman. And, although Wayne remained in custody, Gotham still had its Batman. But, Romy wondered, how far would she need to dig, to find a close friend or relative of Wayne's, who had apparently been a cop, been wounded, turned himself in to the BPD… it was too easy to check into. She didn't trust herself not to. And if she was able to connect the dots… whoever it was under the cowl now had saved her life, and salvaged some part of her soul as well. She couldn't repay that with betrayal. But she didn't think that she could willingly overlook the evidence, nor the path down which it would lead her. Gordon could do it. He had managed for years. There was no way that a man that smart could miss the details, unless he wanted to. But she wasn't Gordon. And she didn't trust herself to keep Pandora's box shut. So… she had to distance herself from the box.
Absently she opened a desk drawer and began sorting through papers. She paused as her gaze fell on her first semester transcript from the FBI training centre at Quantico. She hadn't left because she'd washed out; she'd left because, after a few agents had warned her about the boredom level and the sheer volume of paperwork, she had applied to the police academy, certain that she'd thought she'd found something better. And for a while, she had. But now… maybe what she needed was to lose herself in the bureaucracy and the paperwork. Hesitantly, she dialled the telephone number that appeared at the bottom of the transcript and asked to be connected to the admissions office.
She hung up the phone a few minutes later, pleasantly surprised. Returning to Quantico wasn't going to be as impossible as she had thought. There was a new class starting in three months. By then, she might just have worked through enough of her issues to pass the psych profile.
"Oh, Renee?" Montoya turned to see Captain Sawyer beckoning to her. "Could I see you in here for a moment?"
She stepped into her shift commander's office.
"Shut the door behind you, Renee." Once she complied, Maggie Sawyer leaned forward, expression serious.
"First, I thought you should know," she said, "Chandler's taking an extended leave of absence. You were one of the last to speak with her, right?"
Montoya nodded. "Did she give a reason? I mean," she amended, "a reason that you can disclose?"
"Just that she needed a change. Understandable, given the circumstances, I'd say. However, that's not the main reason that I've asked you to step in here."
Renee waited. Maggie continued.
"By now, I'm sure you're aware that Akins resigned today." She barely waited for Renee to nod. "Tomorrow morning, they'll be announcing his replacement at a press conference. Mayor Hull asked me to accept the promotion," she clarified. "And I have."
Renee's grin was genuine. "Congratulations, Ma'am." She frowned. "You invited me in here, just to tell me that privately?"
Maggie shook her head. "My promotion means that the GCPD is currently short two shift commanders. Sarge has been filling in for second shift since we," she lowered her eyes, "lost Cornwell. The position will be his permanently by the end of the week. That still leaves first shift open, though. What do you say?"
"Me?" Montoya blinked. "I… Capt... Commi… Ma'am… this is completely unexpected. I…"
"Renee," Maggie's voice was firm. "I didn't ask you whether you were expecting the promotion. I asked you whether you wanted it. Do you?"
Montoya met Sawyer's gaze squarely. "Yes."
Two weeks later…
Dick entered Gordon's house (there was no more talk about calling it his 'old' house, now) and sat down heavily on one of the dining room chairs.
"No change?" Barbara asked.
"None," he confirmed. "Bruce doesn't talk, doesn't look around… the one thing he does is eat-if someone feeds him, and then it's almost the exact amount needed for subsistence." He shook his head. "At least Commissioner Sawyer doesn't have a problem with my visiting the hospital. But I don't know what to do anymore, once I'm there. I-you know how in all those movies-of-the-week, when the guy in the coma hears someone else say they love them… the guy wakes up? Or smiles? Or reacts some other way? This isn't a movie-of-the-week."
Barbara wheeled over and began to massage his shoulders. He folded his arms on the table and pillowed his head. "They're taking him out of traction some time this week. Nobody's telling me when, because once he's out, they're packing him off to Arkham, and… if I was going to stage a rescue attempt, that would be the time."
Dick lifted his head and swivelled around to look at her. "If I thought for one minute that he was faking this, yes I would. But he isn't. And I don't know what I could do for him, here. But, once that hearing rolls around, if Bruce isn't better by then, can you find out about other options… maybe out of State?"
"Okay," Barbara said dubiously. "But, now that they know he's Batman, you realize that the only facilities likely to agree to take him are probably going to be places just like Arkham."
"Except that in the other places, seventy-five per cent of the inmates aren't going to hold Bruce personally responsible for their being there."
Barbara considered that. "I'm on it. Dick?" She ventured. "Is there anyone else who might be able to reach him? Raven… or Mirage?"
Dick shook his head. "I wouldn't want to try. After what Zatanna did… I don't think he'd want anybody in his mind. I couldn't force that on him." He looked up, suddenly. "Babs? I think I just thought of someone else who might be able to help. I'm going to need to take a drive into Bludhaven after work, tomorrow. Could you go to the hospital for me?"
Captain Amy Rohrbach's brow furrowed. "So, You're staying in Gotham, but someone else is going to be posing as Nightwing here, in order to hide the fact that you're no longer… Rookie, you're giving me a headache."
Dick sighed. "I thought I owed you an advance warning. Considering."
"How long do you think you can keep this up, Dick?"
"As long as I have to. Nightwing's disappearance from Bludhaven can't coincide with Dick Grayson's reappearance in Gotham. And Batman and Nightwing have to be seen, either together, or in separate locales at the same time.
"What?" He asked, seeing her smile.
"Nothing, Sorry. I was just thinking despite it all, this is the most… together… I've seen you since… since Mary Redhorn's journal got turned over to the authorities. And, much as I'd like to chalk it up to my pep talk last year, somehow I don't think…"
"Amy!" Dick interrupted, "Do you think you could possibly make it in to Gotham on your next day off? There are a lot of activities for kids down at the port, make a family outing of it. I've got an idea."
"Will I regret this?"
"Only if you say no." His smile was infectious. As he explained what he wanted, her expression grew serious. She had several objections, which she raised strenuously, but ultimately, she agreed.
Gossip may be the only substance capable of travelling past the speed of light. Bruce Wayne's transfer to Arkham Asylum was carried out in the utmost secrecy. The wheelchair, property of the asylum, had been on the premises of the hospital for over a week. The publication ban on Batman's whereabouts, set into motion the night that he had been arrested, was to remain in force until such time that Wayne was under lock and key at Arkham.
But somehow, they knew…
At seven p.m., after Barbara had left the hospital to prepare supper, a nurse entered Wayne's room, and injected him with a tranquilizer. Twenty minutes later, conscious but groggy, he was settled and secured in the wheelchair, and taken by elevator to the underground parking garage, where an ambulance awaited. In silence they loaded him aboard. In silence, they drove the ten and one-quarter miles to the asylum. In silence, they pulled up, not at the main gate, but at a little-used side entrance, where four burly orderlies waited. One took the handles of the chair and wheeled him out of the ambulance. A second held the door open, while the third preceded the wheelchair and the fourth took up the rear. It was only a short distance-twenty feet down one corridor, and ten down another to where a cell had been prepared for him. One orderly opened the iron door, featureless save for the two deadbolt locks, one set two feet from the floor, and one two feet from the lintel. The hinges were on the inside of the door, and there was no knob on the inmate's side. The orderly who had pushed the chair down the corridors now manoeuvred it into the cell. He turned the chair in the direction of the bed, and what appeared to be a small shelf situated about a foot over the mattress. The panel directly above the shelf was mesh screening.
"Your food will be placed here, three times a day," the orderly said, speaking for the first time. At his signal, the other two orderlies unstrapped Bruce and deposited him gently on the bed. The first orderly pointed to the light bulb overhead. "It's now seven fifty-five. That bulb goes off at 9 sharp, and will be turned on again at seven, tomorrow morning. If you need anything," he added, not unkindly, "there's a call button under the shelf, but it might take some time before somebody makes the trip down here. If you're really in some sort of trouble, the surveillance cameras will pick it up. A physical therapist will be here tomorrow between breakfast and lunch."
Somehow, in the cells on the upper levels, they knew that he had arrived…
Bruce lay impassively, and it was impossible to know how much he had heard. The orderlies withdrew, and Bruce heard the bolts slide into place, and the click of a lock hasp, to ensure that the deadbolts would not be slid back again by an unauthorized person.
And the whispers and the laughter of the inmates on the upper levels grew raucous.
"Riddle me this! What's another name for a committed crime-fighter?"
"Batman! Hahahahaha! And if this were Blackgate, we could say he's a man of conviction! Heh-heh!"
"But, Puddin', I thought he was just here for observation."
"My dear Ms. Quinn, sentence first. Verdict afterward."
"They say his cell's been waiting for him for a decade. I fear it will be long ere he leave it."
"He may be an enemy, but he deserves better. I find your comments leave me… cold."
"Hi, Jase. It's me. Dick. I just wanted you to know, I don't blame you for what happened. I thought I did… that's why I didn't say anything at the funeral. Truth was, after Alfred, I think I was all cried out. You know something? That was terrible. That made it sound like your burial was an afterthought. And it wasn't. I guess it just took me awhile to get past the way you'd changed. But I'm not exactly one to judge you, am I? See… I don't have any idea what you went through to change you. And I can't exactly ask you now, can I? I guess the only thing I can do, really, is apologize. If you tried to track me down, and I wasn't around when you needed me, Jason, I'm sorry. I'll probably never know what happened in that building, but one thing I do know, and that is that you are not to blame for any of this. There was nothing you could have done to change it. You keep telling yourself that, wherever you are, and I'll do the same, and maybe one day one of us will convince ourselves."
He placed the narcissus on the grave. Bruce would have left a rose, but somehow, Dick felt that his doing so meant accepting that Bruce wouldn't be able to visit this site for a good long time. It was Bruce's job to leave roses. Dick would leave narcissus, or lily, or daffodil, anything but roses. Not that he intended to explain this to anybody else. They might not understand.
Five days later
Robin stood nervously before the screened window. He hadn't seen Bruce since before his arrest, and his mentor's appearance shocked him. Bruce must have dropped at least twenty pounds, and lack of sunlight had given him an unhealthy pallor.
"Hey, Batman," he said trying to keep his tone normal. "They finally let me see you. I just thought you might like to know; I'm back in high school. Yeah, I didn't have any trouble making up what I missed. Listen," his expression turned serious, "I just want you to know, when you offered to adopt me; it wasn't that I didn't want to be around you full-time. I just needed more time by myself to sort things out. Anyway… when you… when you get better… maybe we could just… I'd like to talk about… Stephanie. You won't have to say anything unless you want to, Bruce. I just want to talk to somebody else who knew her. When you get better. Okay?"
Bruce gave no sign that he had heard. Robin inhaled noisily. "Please get better," he whispered.
The brown cardigan had seen better days. Today, it had been x-rayed, prodded, poked, twisted, and, from the length of time that Arkham security examined it, Gordon suspected that it had also been unravelled and re-knitted. Finally, convinced that the former police commissioner wasn't attempting to smuggle any contraband in, a guard accompanied him to the window and unlatched the screen so that the elderly man could slide the sweater through. "It's probably going to be getting colder at night down here before long, son," he said quietly. "Just so you know, your replacement is doing a fine job. But, he'd be the first to agree… he's not you. The boy's lost one father already. Don't make it two, so fast."
"I talk. You listen. When you make mistake, you fix. When you can't fix, you do better next time. That lesson, you taught me. How come you knew how to teach that to me, but you didn't learn it yourself?
"Okay. Now you can talk.
"You can talk.
"Hey boss. I know you've already been getting an earful from Daddy and the others, so I'm not going to repeat what they said. There's no point. You're not going to move until you're good and ready. Fine. I understand. I think you're being your regular pig-headed self, and maybe that's a good thing, I don't know, but I understand. Just… while you're being your regular pig-headed self… try to remember that if you don't do the PT exercises, you might end up needing that wheelchair permanently, is all. Think about it."
"Well," the unfamiliar voice said, "I guess I can see where Dick gets his moral compass from." Amy Rohrbach peered through the mesh screening. "I'm a black belt in hapkido, you know," she said conversationally. "It took me over a decade to reach that level. From seeing Dick in action, hearing him talk about how you taught him almost every technique he knows, I can only imagine what sort of training and discipline you underwent. And now, you're just going to lie there and let your mind atrophy with your leg. Brilliant. Let me guess. You were too fast, or you were too slow. You over-reacted or under-reacted. Or to put it bluntly, you screwed up and you think wasting away down here is somehow going to make it all better. Sorry, Batman. You don't get off that easily! You heard me! You've got to be one of the best-trained fighters on the planet. Dick's taught me detective skills he's said he got from you that completely blow me away. And you think refusing to use those abilities is somehow going to grant you some sort of… absolution. Uh-uh! You don't get the luxury of walking away. Not with the kind of proficiencies you've developed. No way."
"Hey, Bruce. It's me. I just thought I'd check up on you before I headed out on patrol. I've actually got some good news. You remember, I told you after May resigned as DA, your case ended up on Fran Beaudreau's list. Two days ago, the UN refused to grant permission to Gotham City to try you for… I'm trying to remember the wording, something like 'any alleged offences'. Fran issued a statement today that her office won't be appealing. Bruce… the charges are being dropped! The problem is that you're still stuck here for observation. They're trying to set a date for an involuntary commitment hearing. Bruce, if you don't pass it, they… Babs says they can still keep you here if they think you'll be a 'threat to yourself or others'. Anyway, I thought you should know.
Batman sat before the screened window for another half hour, until the lights went out in the cell. Bruce never uttered a word. However, the security tapes recorded a day later revealed that after his physical therapist had left, Bruce Wayne had reached for the two canes provided and walked the ten feet from door to opposite wall and back. Repeatedly. Slowly, with great effort, and occasional stumbles, his lips a thin determined line, he grimly set one foot before the other. From the time that his lunch tray was deposited at noon, until the time that his supper came at six, he paused only briefly to consume the contents of the tray at sporadic intervals, and then resumed his pacing. It was also noted that he was wearing the sweater, despite the warm air that seeped in from outside.
"So, that's it, then?" Barbara asked. "You'll be wearing the Bat-suit most of the time, but still go out as Nightwing every now and again?"
Dick nodded. "As long as there's a chance Bruce might get out of there soon, my wearing the suit protects both of us. Only your father, and a handful of other people can really tell if it's somebody different under the cowl. If Bruce took the costume back tomorrow, the vast majority would never see a difference." He sighed. "Of course, the Nightwing identity is a whole other story."
Barbara took his arm. "We'll deal with it."
"Are you sure 'we' need to?" Dick asked seriously. "Babs, I went through this once already when Desmond tried to destroy me-and almost succeeded. If they know who I am, anybody close to me isn't—ow!" He looked down in disbelief. Barbara had just rolled her chair over his foot. "What did you do that for?"
Barbara spun the chair around. "Do you love me?" She asked.
"That has nothing to do with-"
"Just answer the question, Dick. Do you love me?"
"Do you want me in your life?"
"Of course. But have you looked at the risks?"
Barbara's face reddened. "Need I remind you that I am in this chair because, one time I didn't look at the risks? One time, I opened the door without checking the peephole to see who it was. And that time, it had nothing to do with who I was dating. It was because my father was the police commissioner, and that maniac had to prove a point! Well, guess what, Dick? I learned from that." She whipped out her escrima and began swinging indiscriminately. A potted geranium fell from the windowsill to the green shag carpeting that had been on the floor since 1976. A stack of blank CD-Roms followed. "I learned to protect myself." One dining room chair fell into a second, which fell into a third, sending all three crashing down as though they were dominos. "I learned to fight! Not just with these," Dick had only a split second to block her fighting sticks with his own pair, "but with everything else I had going for me. The one thing I didn't learn was that sometimes it's okay to let my guard down… that maybe I won't get hurt and that once in awhile, I have to risk it. It wasn't until I realized that I was so afraid of losing you that I pushed you away that I tackled that one. But Dick, I looked at the risks, and the odds, and you know something? I still think that the second-biggest mistake I ever made was breaking up with you. So don't you dare stand there, and throw it back in my face, and tell me that it's too dangerous to know you! Don't—mmmph!"
Whatever else she had been about to say was lost as Dick pressed his lips firmly to hers. Barbara closed her eyes and wrapped her arms about him, feeling his hands slide over her shoulders. As they parted, Dick mumbled "second-biggest?"
"Opening the door without checking who was there was worse, Hunk-wonder."
"Oh." She was right. "No arguments on that one."
"Signal's lit," Barbara commented.
Dick smiled ruefully. "And they only just replaced it last week. I'd better suit up."
Barbara surveyed the results of her temper tantrum. "And I'd better clean up. Before Daddy gets home."
"You too." He hesitated.
"Bruce knows you're not taking over," she stated firmly. "You're just saving his spot."
Dick nodded, and headed for the steps to the basement. On the threshold, he raced back, gave Barbara a quick kiss and ran down the stairs where the costume awaited.
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