(Blackjack01) Part the First

It’s like a poison in my brain, It’s like a fog that blurs the sane.

“Paranoid,” Jonas Brothers

The darkness curled around him as he watched from the shadows, the sound of maddening laughter echoing dimly along the halls of Arkham.  Bruce knew he shouldn’t be there, especially as he had come officially after whispering in the right ears at the District Police Office and with a fat check to the charity for police officers’ widows and orphans, but he couldn’t help it.  He had to see those dull green eyes again that, despite the heavy drugs inmates of Arkham were placed under, held a wisp of sanity.

Bruce had first seen the eyes when he had broken into Arkham as Batman, heard the gentle pleas as the inmate had looked out through his bars and despite not being able to see Batman, had called out to him quietly and asked for the date, saying he needed to send his godson a birthday present.  “He has no one else,” he murmured to the shadows, his eyes staring directly into Bruce’s eyes although Bruce knew he shouldn’t be able to find them in the darkness.  “Little Teddy.  He needs to know he’s wanted and loved.”

The words had struck Bruce and he had wanted to reach out to the man, trace the lingering scar he saw peeking out behind the tangled black curls that fell around the inmate’s face.  It had been a strange, sudden desire haunting his mind, and grimacing to himself he had forced himself to move on, ignoring the breathless “goodbye” the man had whispered after him, knowing that if he looked back, he would want to discover the secrets of those eyes that held him. 

As soon as he had left Arkham, he had hacked into the patient files and tried to find the mysterious inmate.  Room 21A, Floor 4.  Officially, the room was empty according to records, which only peaked his interest.

“Master Bruce?” Alfred intoned when Bruce had thrown a pen across the kitchen in frustration, his laptop open and patient files that he really shouldn’t have spread out around him. 

Bruce had stared at him, his eyes shuttered, before turning back to the useless information.  A godson, a little boy, his mind murmured to him, making him feel like he couldn’t breathe.  He knew what that was like—to have no one in the world as a child—no one but Alfred.  If he had been taken from him. . . .

He repressed a shudder at the thought and quickly got up and left the room, Alfred staring after him, a half prepared breakfast simmering on the stove that Bruce probably wouldn’t eat now that he was in a brooding mood.  When he returned to the kitchen, ready for work in a new Armani suit, his bowl of porridge was waiting for him and the files neatly piled to one side.  He stared at them for a long moment, remembering the sanity in the voice that had whispered to him, that had seen him and had still spoken. 

Bruce tried to forget about it, focusing on Gotham and cleaning it up at night.  He thought that if he tired himself at night, put enough criminals behind bars, then he would forget the dulled green eyes and the whispered words that echoed in his mind, but at night he found himself dreaming of the inmate, his pale gaunt face looking out at him, beautiful despite the pallor of his skin and a quiet power hanging around him.  He knew that he hadn’t been able to forget the anonymous inmate when he found himself standing in front of F.A.O. Schwartz and staring in at the toys displayed in the windows. 

He knew nothing about the man’s godson, only that he was called “little Teddy” and he found himself gravitating toward the stuffed animals, staring at them all with intensity.  Bruce barely noticed when a saleswoman, obviously recognizing him, tried to flirt with him; instead, he pointed out the different choices before finally deciding on a large plush wolf.  If Teddy were still young, then he would just love it because it was soft; if he were slightly older than he would appreciate it for being a wild and dangerous animal.  It was a safe choice all around.

Alfred had stared at the bag when Bruce returned home later, unusually pensive, but he said nothing.  Instead, he took the bag and informed Bruce that he would put his purchase up in his room, and Bruce let him, his mind straying back to the inmate and his eyes.

It was then that be picked up the telephone and called the District Commissioner, and within a day he was standing back in the bright white halls of the mental institution, the sound of haunting laughter jarring his senses as he carefully walked down the fourth floor corridor.  He paid little attention to the man at his side who was rambling on, only pausing when he had to let the guard use a key to get through a door.  Bruce was clutching the bag in his hand, a card placed inside it carefully which the inmate could fill out.

“They’re all heavily medicated,” the guard said, catching Bruce’s attention.  “I doubt whoever it is will say anything sane even with them.”

A half smile quirked the corner of Bruce’s lips.  “It won’t be a problem,” he assured the man calmly.  “Room 21A,” he prompted.

The guard stared at him for a long moment, shock evident on his face.  “Our John Doe.  Dr. Crane’s favorite.”  The guard’s lips parted and his pupils dilated, causing a shiver of fear to rush down Bruce’s spine.

He didn’t like at all what those words could refer to.

“I’m not surprised,” the guard continued as they approached the door, a face absent from the barred window that opened out to the hall, the place where Bruce’s eyes first met the inmate’s and he saw that breath of lucidity that one never saw in places like Arkham.  “He is beautiful after all.  They say he came in dressed in imported silks.”

Bruce tried to suppress his surprise and inclined his head for the guard to step aside.  “I can take it from here.”

“Mr. Wayne—“

“I’ll call you if you’re needed,” he said in his most commanding voice, not letting the usual smile he wore in public to cross his features.  “Mr. Doe is restrained, isn’t he?”

The guard nodded and then stepped aside, allowing Bruce to enter the small room fully before the door was closed again.

Bruce heard the turn of the key in the lock with a sense of maddening finality.  If someone ever discovered he was Batman, he knew it wouldn’t be that much of a stretch of the imagination for him to be sentenced to a place like this.  Only his money would be able to purchase his freedom, and if the inmate was as wealthy as the guard had suggested, then not even money had helped the man.

The room was small but well lit and looked more comfortable than the normal cells Bruce had seen on his last visit.  There was a comfortable blue chair in the corner that the inmate was sitting on despite being in a straightjacket, his face turned away toward a small window that let in fresh air, but was far too small for even a child to escape through. 

“You’ve come back then?” the inmate asked, not even looking at Bruce.

Bruce looked at him for a long moment, at the long neck that was covered in messy black curls that seemed to hold a hint of auburn to them when the light hit it.  The man’s eyes were shuddered, closed against the small light that fell on them from the window, his lips drawn tight in resignation, and his muscles stiff and tense.

“Well, Dr. Crane, no need to be coy,” he finally whispered, still not turning toward Bruce.  “We both know what you want and that I have little choice in the matter.”

Bruce’s throat went dry at the sadness in the strong baritone and licked his lips to bring back some moisture to them.  “I’m not Dr. Crane,” he finally said quietly, his voice echoing in the small room for a moment, darker than he usually allowed it when he wasn’t alone.

The man’s head snapped toward him and took him in for several moments, the features tensing and then slowly relaxing again, although Bruce still saw a guarded look in the man’s eyes.  “Who are you?” he asked quietly, his eyes trailing over Bruce’s tailored suit and the red bag in his hand.

“A friend,” Bruce finally admitted after a moment’s deliberation.  “You asked me for the date and said that you wanted to give your godson a present.”  He carefully held out the bag in offering and the man’s eyes instantly snapped to it, a hunger in them that was startling as the rest of his face had relaxed into a serene façade that hid his other emotions.

“That was so long ago,” he finally murmured, and Bruce only nodded.  It was true after all.

Carefully, he took out the stuffed wolf for the man to see.  “I didn’t know his age or his interests—“

“No,” the man interrupted hurriedly, his sane eyes meeting Bruce’s for a long moment.  “It’s absolutely perfect.—Teddy Lupin, Care of Andromeda Tonks, The Grange, Sevenoaks, Surrey.”  His green eyes flashed up to Bruce’s, holding them.  “His birthday is in April.”

Bruce nodded and quickly noted down the address.  “It will be a little late, but he’ll still get it.”

The man nodded carefully.  “You’re telling the truth?” he whispered, looking up at Bruce for a moment before glancing away again, as if he couldn’t bear for Bruce to be lying.

“Yes,” Bruce agreed, carefully settling the wolf back into the bag.  “I know what it’s like to have no one as a child.”  He paused for a long moment and took out the card.  “Should I write anything in particular?”

“That I’ll always love him,” the inmate whispered.  “That there’s no one I could ever love more—that he’s my son in everything but blood.”  The man looked up and surveyed Bruce carefully again.  “What were you doing here that night?  Visitors aren’t allowed after hours.”

“No,” Bruce answered carefully.  “No, they aren’t.”

The man smiled gently as if remembering something and nodded once.  “Understandable then, I suppose.  Trouble should always be made against the corrupt establishment.”  He paused as if he were going to continue, but then turned his head to the door, listening carefully to something Bruce couldn’t hear.  The man sighed.  “It’s nearly mealtime.  You should leave.”

Bruce startled almost visibly, but then brought himself under control and stood.  “Goodbye, then,” he said, echoing the man’s words when they first met.

“Yes,” the man answered, preoccupied.  “Goodbye—and thank you.”

Walking to the door, Bruce carefully knocked on the inside of the door, waiting for the guard to come and let him out.  Despite himself, he glanced back over his shoulder as he left and met the dulled green eyes of a sane man, his heart leaping into his chest at the resigned sadness captured in them before the inmate without a name looked away toward the window, his shoulders tense as the door once again closed behind Bruce and was locked shut with an ominous shudder.

As Bruce walked carefully through the halls, he felt that he had left something invaluable behind, and the thought nearly frightened him.

That evening, Alfred watched him quietly as he carefully wrapped the wolf plushy in bright blue and green paper he had his assistant at Wayne Enterprises purchase for him.  He remembered what it was like to receive presents as a young child, how the brighter the paper, the more excited he became, the more loved he felt.  Teddy would probably feel loved just by receiving a gift from his godfather who was so far away—locked in a dark cell or missing for all he knew—but still the colors might entrance him before he opened the gift.  Carefully, Bruce wrote in the card the man’s birthday wishes, apologizing first for being late, and hoping the child wouldn’t recognize it as someone else’s handwriting although he used block letters to disguise it as best he could. 

Bruce watched as Alfred left the room half an hour later, the package in his hands with instructions to have it sent to England as soon as possible, no expense was to be spared.  He didn’t want the inmate’s godson to wait any longer than he had to for his gift.

That night, after he slipped into bed, ignoring the aches and pains throughout his bruised body, he dreamt of the small room in Arkham.  The man was sitting there, in his straightjacket, his eyes hollow and insane, and Bruce woke up gasping for breath, his damp hair plastered to his forehead. 

A man like that didn’t belong in Arkham with needles stuck in him every day at the same time and brightly colored pills and wandering hands from the doctors who should have been protecting him.  He was a man without a criminal or a mental record, an inmate with just a number and no name, never placed within the system and, therefore, interned in the hospital for some other reason.

He couldn’t sleep just at the thought of who had locked him away and why—each candidate more nefarious than the last.  Someone with power, certainly, a politician, someone with connections and enough money, or the petty criminals on the street who wanted him locked away and forgotten for some reason, with only Dr. Crane and his frighteningly bright blue eyes for company.

He didn’t even bother to put on a shirt as he got up from bed and made his way down the echoing corridors of his gothic mansion, the still and painted eyes of his ancestors following him as he walked down the hallways in search of some purpose before the sun rose in the following hours.  As he walked into the dark kitchen, he almost imagined the man sitting quietly at the counter, looking out the window to the sprawling hills and forest that surrounded Wayne Manor, a small half-smile on his face, a child, his godson, sitting happily in his lap as he ate his morning cereal.

Teddy.  Teddy Lupin, his mind reminded him.

His jaw clenched in thought.

A few minutes later he was sitting at the counter in the space beside the one he had imagined the man without a name to be sitting, a mug of warm coffee in hand and his laptop blinking to life in front of him.  He had an address and two names in England—people connected to the man with dulled green eyes and whose body clenched in fear when he first looked at Bruce and thought he was someone else. 

Half an hour later he stared at the computer in frustration.  He couldn’t find a single reference to a Teddy, Edward, or Theodore Lupin and none to an Andromeda Tonks.  He did manage to come across the early school records of a Theodore Tonks, who had died back in 1997 and might have been some relation, but apart from that he came up empty handed.  Teddy wasn’t enlisted in any known school, he couldn’t even find a registered birth certificate.  It was almost as if neither of them existed.

If he hadn’t seen the clarity and lucidity in the man’s eyes, he would be tempted to say that they were the worthless ramblings of a mental patient.  The address, however, existed.  He managed to capture a satellite photograph of the rambling cottage, he even found a street view of it thanks to modern technology, but there was no registered owner of it—even when he hacked into the zoning and planning committee of Sevenoaks.  Someone had paid good money for the family to disappear, and he wondered if the man knew that his godson was in hiding for some reason from the greater world, if somehow the same person who placed the inmate behind the bars of a mental ward had also been after the godson.  It could even be larger than Gotham, Bruce thought, taking a heavy drag from his coffee just as the sun was beginning to peak through the east windows.  The man had a lilt of a British accent and the child was living in Surrey with someone the inmate knew if not trusted—and everyone else was gone for the little boy.  The parents, uncles and aunts probably as well as grandparents.  There was nothing but the name Andromeda Tonks who might have been a paid nanny, which wasn’t outside of the realm of possibility if the guard could be believed and the inmate did in fact arrive in imported silk, and then the inmate himself who was shut away possibly for life and outside of the system.

His jaw clenched again.  There was no paper trail on the man, and he doubted even Rachel could find anything although he had every intention of calling her as soon as it was late enough and asking for assistance.  He wasn’t insane and probably had nothing more than a natural fear that comes from being—

Bruce closed his eyes in pain, not wanting to think about what was clearly happening inside that cell, who else was coming to visit the man and the indignities and cruelties he was forced to suffer.  As haunting images flashed before his mind, he felt bile rise in his throat, the dull eyes of the man taunting him with a silent plea for help. 

“Master Bruce.”  Alfred’s voice penetrated Bruce’s waking nightmare and he opened his eyes, looking at his butler who was standing before him in an apron and with his starched shirt sleeves rolled up to his elbows.  “Are you well?”

Bruce swallowed carefully and then nodded hesitantly.  “Yes.  I just couldn’t sleep.”

“Rough night?” Alfred asked casually, going about the kitchen and taking out ingredients for oatmeal. 

“You could say that,” Bruce said, wincing at the thought of the restaurant he had attended the night before with a rising Hollywood starlet.  “She was vapid and wouldn’t stop feeling me up.”

Alfred looked at him confused for a moment.  “I had meant your other activities, but indeed your reputation as a playboy could cause problems if you do not live up to your reputation.”

Bruce sighed.  “Sometimes I think I should give it all up.”  His mind once again returned to the man, to the line of his neck, his messy black hair that looked so soft and touchable even when he was trapped in a straightjacket.  There had almost been the scent of cedar wood about him as if he were given constant showers unlike the other mental patients at Arkham who often looked as if they hadn’t bathed since before they had been sentenced there.

“You probably would break many a heart,” Alfred said with a long-suffering sigh as he poured milk into a pot over the oats.  “I’m certain there must be someone who wishes to capture your heart—for good.”

Bruce snorted and looked up fondly at his butler.  “What, the legendary billionaire playboy?”

“No,” Alfred answered kindly.  “The upstanding young man who just needs to grow into himself and perhaps find the right woman.  Your father, after all, was not always married to your mother.  He was not as wild as you pretend to be in public, but he certainly had some growing into himself to do.”

“You’d like children around the house again, wouldn’t you, Alfred?” Bruce said, smiling and finishing up his coffee.  He would have asked for another if Alfred hadn’t placed a glass of chilled milk in front of him immediately.   His mind turned to Teddy, the elusive godson who didn’t exist according to official records, but who was a glint of love and sanity in the inmate’s beautiful yet dull green eyes.  Bruce wondered how old Teddy might be, imagining a boy of three or four running about the house with a stuffed wolf under his arm.  His smile widened just at the thought.

“I see you are not immune to the idea, Master Bruce,” Alfred continued, breaking Bruce once again from his thoughts. 

He shook himself mentally, trying to dispel the fascination for the inmate that had overtaken him ever since the man had first spoken to him in the darkness a week before.  “No,” he finally answered as he closed his computer and pushed it aside to make room for his breakfast.  “No, not completely, I suppose.”  It was only impossible, he reminded himself, as his mind conjured up images of him lying on his back with the man straddling him as Bruce reached up and ran his fingers through the inmate’s messy curls.  He shook off the thought.  He really needed to get more sleep if his mind really was turning to such thoughts.

“Thirty is a respectable age to settle down,” Alfred said after a moment as he began cutting up an orange, “and you’ve only been in Gotham for a few months, so you haven’t completely ruined your reputation by being the consummate ladies’ man, Master Bruce.  A few well-placed words, sincerity, and a proper courtship should win the woman of your choice.”

Bruce choked on his milk and looked up at Alfred, laughing.  “Proper courtship?”

“It has not gone amiss in the past,” Alfred reminded him.  “It is how your father won your mother—and you are, after all, not the average man on the street.”

“No, hardly,” Bruce agreed with another chuckle and then turned back to his breakfast, his eyes on the computer again.  “How early can I call the Assistant D.A.?”

Alfred paused.  “I’d imagine Miss Dawes would accept your call at any time after eight.”

“Eight.”  Bruce looked at the clock.  It was only just after seven.  He still had to wait.

In the end, he wound up dropping by her office just before lunch, thinking that a more direct approach might work, especially since she was already angry with him for not informing her that he had returned to Gotham after seven years of living abroad.  He remembered when he had rescued her from Arkham, and then grimaced at the thought of the inmate still being trapped there.  At least Bruce was almost certain he wasn’t being given the hallucinogenic drugs that Jonathan Crane was so fond of—although his fate was worse and he was given no escape from it.

“Rachel,” he greeted, leaning against her open door.  “I have a favor to ask.”

She looked up from her desk, her dark chestnut hair toppled on her head and a question in her eyes.  “So.  You show yourself and it’s not a party and no one’s on your arm.”

“Yes, well,” he began, entering and closing the door behind him crisply.  “I’m being serious.”

“I really don’t know what that means for you anymore,” she confessed, getting up and straightening out her pencil skirt before walking to a cabinet and rifling through its contents.  “So.  What is?”

“Hypothetically, what if I knew that there was a patient in Arkham that had no record—a John Doe that’s not even in the system as a mental patient or a mentally insane criminal who is sentenced there?”

Rachel paused, her eyes widening as she looked over at him.  “Hypothetically?  It couldn’t happen.  There are state and city inspectors and there would be no way to hide a patient like that.  You can’t get in without the proper paperwork and signatures.  There’d be a paper trail somewhere.”

Bruce clenched his jaw momentarily and saw that Rachel noticed it.  Forcing himself to relax, he gave her a charming smile, feeling sick inside.  “Thank you, Rachel,” he said suavely before turning and opening the door.  “A pleasure as always.”

“Is that all?” she called after him, but he didn’t answer, instead walking purposefully out of the office and out the door.

That night he dressed only in black and put a ski mask over his face, knowing that if the man was lucid, he couldn’t risk being associated with Batman.   Slipping out through the streets, he easily broke into Arkham and stole the keys to the cells from a sleeping guard.  He ran silently up to the fourth floor, his footsteps barely echoing in the hauntingly silent ward, and then pressed the key into room 21A.   Rushing in, he saw that the room was completely empty, a discarded straightjacket in the corner—the inmate was gone.

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