Paranoia is in bloom. The PR transmissions will resume. They try to push drugs and keep us all dumbed down. And hope that we will never see the truth around.“Uprising,” Muse
“Miss Dawes is here to see you.” Bruce stared at the receptionist for several long moments before he nodded and headed up to his office. He hadn’t bothered to listen to the news on his drive in, not wanting to hear the latest speculation on the murder.
He didn’t bother to even pretend to flirt with the female employees and instead just walked into his office, shucking off his coat and putting down his briefcase as he took in the angry form of Rachel Dawes who was sitting in a chair in front of his desk that he pretended to rarely use. “Rachel,” he greeted. “What can I do for you this fine morning?”
“It’s hardly fine,” she quipped, leaning forward, “with the murder last night.”
“Sounded tragic,” Bruce agreed. “I only saw the headline and it didn’t say much. How was he killed?”
Rachel’s lips pressed into a hard line. “The police aren’t releasing that information at the moment.”
Bruce nodded and turned to his computer and typed in his password. He’d changed it the day after he had first spoken to the man, drawn somehow to his lucidity while he was locked in Arkham. Room 21A—Blackjack. He smiled to himself. It was the perfect nickname for a man who had no name.
“Why are you smiling?” Rachel asked and Bruce looked up at her, his eyebrows furrowed.
“A passing thought that’s completely unconnected.”
“Is it as unconnected as you asking a hypothetical question about a nameless and under-the-radar patient at Arkham the day before Dr. Jonathan Crane is murdered on the site?”
“Yes,” Bruce replied truthfully.
“As unconnected as you gaining special access to Arkham just a few days ago to visit an inmate as the guest of the Mayor himself, and yet there’s no file of which patient you went to see?”
“Well, if the patient didn’t exist, then clearly I couldn’t visit him or her,” Bruce replied factually. “Are you here as a childhood friend or in an official capacity, Rachel? And don’t you try cases and not collect testimonies from people who asked a hypothetical question?”
“Where were you last night?” she asked firmly, and Bruce couldn’t help but laugh.
“Rachel, you’re barking up the wrong tree.”
“You’ve contemplated murder in cold blood before,” she reminded him, and his mind flashed back to the day his parents’ murderer was let out on parole for good behavior—before being shot by someone else before Bruce could get to him. He’d only been twenty-two, young, impressionable, only a few years younger than he thought Blackjack was. Bruce’s eyes had been too old then, having seen what no child should see. Blackjack’s eyes, though, were even older than his somehow, even after everything Bruce had experienced in his seven years abroad and his time spent in a foreign prison.
“You know I can’t answer that if you’re asking as the Assistant D.A.,” Bruce said, trying to sound apologetic despite the feeling of betrayal that ripped through him at her reminder. “Are you here in an official capacity, Miss Dawes?”
She hesitated and then, standing, nodded slowly. “If you could come down to the station, I’m sure we could find a police officer to properly question you, Mr. Wayne.”
Bruce sighed and stood carefully before picking up his phone. “Mandy,” he said into it, speaking to the current receptionist. “Could you inform Mr. Fox that we’ll have to reschedule our appointment, and please call my home and inform Mr. Pennyworth that I’ve been taken down to the police department and I’ll try to keep him updated as much as possible.” His eyes met Rachel’s accusingly. “No, nothing serious. Preliminary interviews for anyone who’s been in contact with Dr. Crane recently, I imagine.”
Rachel stared at him and he nodded to her, smirking at Mandy’s flirtation and playing up his public persona.
“Yes, thank you. Having my lawyer on standby would be a worthwhile precaution, I’d imagine. Mr. Pennyworth will know who to contact.”
A moment later he had hung up and he put on his coat, which he had discarded only a few minutes before. Suddenly he was very thankful that he hadn’t brought Dr. Crane’s notes with him to peruse during lunch, not wanting to endanger Blackjack’s identity or existence to the authorities. Despite the respect he held for the law, he knew that Gotham’s police force were primarily dirty and he would never trust Blackjack’s justice to them. They had failed Bruce when his parents were murdered, letting the man out—vengeance sometimes was the only way. He hadn’t been able to gain it for his parents’ deaths but he had been able to exact it in the case of Blackjack’s imprisonment and abuse. Blackjack would be able to sleep at night knowing that Crane was never coming for him.
The drive down to police headquarters was relatively uneventful, Bruce looking out the window and refusing to speak to Rachel.
“Can you legally even do this?” he asked her when he was stepping out of the car. “You’re not a cop.”
“No, but I’m delivering a possible witness and, if there’s any truth in my suspicions, you don’t want the Assistant D.A. against you, Bruce. Childhood friendships mean nothing when it comes to murder suspects.”
“I’d like Sergeant Gordon, then,” he requested. At Rachel’s affronted look, he continued. “I’m not under arrest, and I’d like Sergeant Gordon. He was kind to me when I was a child. I wouldn’t trust anyone else in there.”
Rachel sized him up and then nodded before escorting him into the station.
The room was white and he could see a large mirror opposite him where he was certain someone was watching him from the other side as he waited to be questioned. He’d been given weak coffee and wanted nothing more than to call up Alfred and check up on Blackjack, but he didn’t want anyone asking him any more questions. It was already uncomfortable enough.
After half an hour, Sergeant Gordon finally entered, just as Bruce remembered him from their meeting earlier in the month when Bruce was Batman—frazzled, worn, and yet full of integrity.
“Mr. Wayne,” he greeted. “Sorry for the delay but I was being briefed and getting Miss Dawes’ statement.”
“Well, it’s nice to know she wasn’t planning the entire time to drag me down here,” he admitted with a charming smile. “Hello again.”
“Yes,” Gordon answered and then turned to his hastily scribbled notes that appeared to be on the back of a file folder. “Let’s just get this out of the way. You asked Miss Dawes a hypothetical question as a friend about a potential invisible patient at Arkham yesterday?”
“Yes. I was just curious if someone could potentially slip through the cracks after visiting there. It was idle curiosity.”
“Understandable,” Gordon murmured, looking at him searchingly and then nodding to himself. “I sometimes wonder that about our prisons.”
Bruce smiled kindly at him.
“Did you have any reason to do Dr. Crane harm?”
“I’d never met him before, so no,” he answered, “and before you ask, I was at my manor last night. My butler can verify it as well as security cameras. I came back mid-afternoon and didn’t leave again until this morning.”
“Yes, the security feed was sent in just before I walked in, but Miss Dawes insisted on being thorough.” He sighed. “Thank you for your cooperation, Mr. Wayne.”
“Not at all, Sergeant. I hope we meet under better circumstances next time.”
Bruce didn’t bother to speak to Rachel on his way out and was happy to see a driver and car waiting for him at the front door. Alfred was nothing if not thorough. Unfortunately, Rachel was nothing if not tenacious and followed him out and slipped into the backseat of the car just before the driver was supposed to close the door.
“This is just plain stalking,” Bruce commented, giving the chauffeur the signal to go. He might as well get this confrontation over with as soon as possible.
“Your parents would be ashamed of you,” Rachel stated, reiterating her words from seven years earlier. “First you plan to murder Chill and then for some unfathomable reason you murder Crane.”
“Rachel,” he sighed. “If I had murdered Chill, it would have been for vengeance—and there is no similar reason for my supposedly murdering Crane.”
“Except for a mental patient who doesn’t exist. Who was it, Bruce? A friend, an employee—someone you owed? Who?”
“There was no patient, Rachel. It was a hypothetical question—and you have the security feeds yourself from my manor. You know that I never left.”
She sighed and sat back, rubbing the back of her hand against her forehead. “You’re hiding something from me.”
“Yes, of course—where I’ve been for seven years, and it wasn’t Arkham in case you really were about to ask that question,” Bruce added before looking out the window.
“We’re leaving the city,” Rachel remarked, looking out the window.
“Yes, I’m going home. I’ve had a trying morning which included having my childhood friend suspecting me of murdering a psychiatrist.”
“We were close once,” she mused, looking over at him.
“Yes,” he agreed. “Once upon a time.”
“And then you left—and changed.”
Bruce sighed, looking at the attractive woman sitting next to him. “People change over seven years, Rachel. It’s to be expected.”
She shrugged. “But what happened to the little boy who wanted to be my knight in shining armor, the one who would have killed his parents’ murderer in an albeit twisted sense of justice in the man who goes to fancy restaurants, blowing off money as if it were paper, with two girls on his arms whose names you won’t remember the next morning?”
“You might be surprised,” he murmured to himself, but not quietly enough. When she looked over at him, he elaborated. “I think I’m settling down.”
Arching an eyebrow, she looked at him. “Bruce Wayne, already famous billionaire playboy? Settling down after only a few months of womanizing and wild parties?”
“Hopefully,” he answered truthfully. “I’ve found the one. It will take awhile, a long time,” he clarified, “but when you find the one, it’s all worth it.”
Rachel tried to smile at him, but somehow it fell flat. Quickly she looked out the window. “Wow. A whirlwind romance for you at any rate.”
“Yes,” he agreed with a smile, thinking of Blackjack. “Which reminds me,” he murmured before dialing the manor. “Alfred,” he greeted. “How is everything?”
“As well as can be expected,” Alfred related over the phone. “It turns out your guest had been on an anti-depressant and an anti-psychotic, though for no medical reason. He began going through withdrawal and I had to call a physician so that he could be weaned slowly from it.”
Bruce grimaced. “Just how much of it was he on?”
“Far too much. It seems it was used to suppress his moods along with the anti-depressant so that he would be less aggressive against his captors.”
“Yes,” Bruce agreed, looking over at Rachel. “Miss Dawes has decided to accompany me back to the manor, so—“
“Everything will be arranged,” Alfred promised.
“Yes, well, give Blackjack whatever he needs,” Bruce hinted.
There was a pause on the other line and then Alfred agreed. “Of course, Mr. Blackjack will have everything that he requires. I’ll see you soon.”
Bruce hung up a moment later, and noticed that Rachel was looking over him curiously. “Blackjack?”
“The love of my life,” Bruce prompted, “and an old friend from when I was traveling after Princeton.”
She stilled for a moment and then looked at him carefully. “You said ‘he.’”
“Yes,” Bruce agreed, “I did. And it’s too soon to mention anything,” he warned her.
Swallowing, she looked at him sternly. “We live in New York,” she reminded him. “We don’t have civil unions here.”
“And I have a lot of money,” he reminded her as they drove up to the front gate. “A great deal of money, and I am willing to sponsor any politician who would vote for it within this great state.”
“You can’t possibly be serious,” she scoffed. “Of any political platform you could spend your fortune on, you choose civil unions when you could help fight crime or those who are too poor to feed their children?”
He looked at her strangely, thinking she’d be pleased he’d ‘grown up’ seemingly overnight.
“You don’t even like men,” she protested. “Ever. I thought—“ She stopped suddenly, staring out the window.
“Yes, well, Blackjack is one of a kind,” he said, smiling. “Oh, and Alfred doesn’t know.” He got out of the vehicle smoothly when the car door opened and offered his hand gallantly to Rachel, glad at least that he’d managed to blindside her completely and she wouldn’t think of his potential involvement with Crane’s murder for at least an hour. He knew how she thought—while she was a pragmatist, she wouldn’t risk her own happy ending for vengeance, and she would assume her reasoning would at least pass to him in this instance.
“So you invited him to Gotham to woo him, and didn’t even tell Alfred?”
“He knows I want to settle down and have children,” Bruce admitted. “As far as I know, he hasn’t made a connection.”
“And this Blackjack?”
“Knows that I’m a friend, first and foremost. Can I offer you a lift back to the city?”
She startled and checked her watch. “Yes, thank you. I really need to see the D.A. Crane’s murder was just so strange.”
“What was he, shot at his desk?” Bruce questioned.
She shook her head. “Smothered with a pillow. He was in a private room on the sixth floor and there was evidence that he had a companion, who seems to have been restrained.”
“Kinky,” Bruce forced himself to remark, although it sent a shiver of disgust through him.
Rachel pursed her lips.
“Well, I’ll be seeing you. Hopefully next time you won’t be interrogating me for a hypothetical question I asked you.”
Rachel, at least, looked apologetic. “Well, maybe I’ll meet this ‘Blackjack’ later on.”
“Maybe you will,” Bruce said with a smile. “He’s a bit private and I don’t know how long he’ll stay, but hopefully.”
“Sounds like you have your work cut out for you,” she said sadly. “Goodbye, Bruce.”
“Bye, Rachel,” he responded, moving away so the chauffeur could shut the door. “Take her back to wherever she wants to go,” he instructed before he turned and looked up at his manor, knowing Blackjack was inside. He didn’t like the thought of having to continue giving him medications, but if it was the safest way to take him off them, then it had to be done.
“Miss Dawes?” Alfred asked him in the entryway and Bruce sighed.
“She’s going back into Gotham. I asked her a hypothetical question yesterday and she had me taken down for questioning—in a non-hypothetical way.”
“Miss Dawes has always had a passionate nature,” Alfred agreed.
“Yes, and I had to distract her with news that I am head over heals in love—with Blackjack.”
Alfred stilled, his blue eyes hardening. “And your guest has a godson,” he murmured to himself. He distractedly tried to smooth out Bruce’s jacket that Bruce had handed him.
“Are you all right, Alfred?” Bruce asked kindly.
“Yes, sir. Of course, sir. Mr. Blackjack is upstairs in your room sleeping. The physician had to sedate him when he began to go into a sweating chill and vomiting.”
“How long is it going to take?” Bruce asked worriedly, looking toward the stairs.
“At least a month,” Alfred responded quietly. “Are you in need of lunch, Master Wayne?”
Bruce nodded. “Yes, I’m famished. I’ll just go and change into something more casual.”
“Master Wayne, your clothing—“
“I won’t be a moment,” he answered as he took the steps two at a time, eager for even just a glance of Blackjack, to assure himself of his wellbeing.
The bedroom was dark when he opened the door and slipped in, careful that he shouldn’t wake Blackjack who seemed to be curled in on himself beneath the covers. Bruce smiled to himself as he stood and looked for a moment, seeing Blackjack’s messy black hair peaking out from the top. It warmed his heart that Blackjack was asleep in his bed, which is where Bruce hoped he would sleep for the rest of his life.
“Bruce?” a voice queried, thick with sleep, and Bruce walked forward toward Blackjack whose eyes were peering out from the covers.
“I’m here,” he whispered gently. “I just came to get a change of clothes.”
“’S your room,” he muttered, turning over again and rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand.
“Go back to sleep. Nothing can hurt you here, I promise.”
Blackjack turned back toward Bruce and looked up at him with shadowed green eyes. “’M alone,” he admitted. “Never slept alone.”
Bruce carefully sank down to the bed. “Do you want me stay?” he asked hesitantly, uncertain if Blackjack or the medication running through him was talking.
“Yes’m. Nothing bad can come if ‘s already here.” He pushed the covers off of his shoulders in invitation and, after looking over his shoulder at the door, Bruce toed off his shoes and slipped beneath them. He pulled Blackjack carefully to him in a loose embrace and smiled when the man snuggled deeper into his warmth.
“Shh, you’re safe,” Bruce whispered against Blackjack’s hair, running his fingers through it for the first time. “Nothing bad will come as long as I’m here.”
“I know. You did what I couldn’t do. What my friend couldn’t.” Blackjack hummed. “But he tried, Bruce. I know he tried. He always tried t’ make m’ smile. Why so serious?” he asked sadly before falling off into a drugged sleep.
Bruce held him lovingly, breathing in the scent of his own soap and a hint of hot chocolate that Alfred must have made for him before he went into withdrawal. Fifteen minutes later, there was a brief rustling as the door to the room opened and Bruce looked over his shoulder, signaling for Alfred to be quiet.
“Master Wayne?” he whispered in question.
“He didn’t want to sleep alone,” he replied quietly, turning back to Blackjack whose features were covered almost in blackness. “I couldn’t leave him alone when he looked like that.”
Alfred looked down at Blackjack and Bruce caught a hint of a smile on his face. “No, I suppose not. He’s gone through too much.”
“Yes,” Bruce agreed as he continued to stroke Blackjack’s hair soothingly. “And if I have anything to say about it, no one’s going to hurt him ever again.”
“Admirable,” Alfred conceded, almost grudgingly. “You’ll have your work cut out for you.”
“What did Dad used to say?” Bruce asked, gazing down lovingly as Blackjack snuggled closer. “There was no higher glory for a man than protecting his family.”
“From what I know, Mr. Blackjack’s father had a similar view of life,” Alfred said. “Would you still care for some lunch? Something that you can eat easily in your present—predicament?”
“Yes, thank you, Alfred.” Bruce barely noticed when the door clicked shut behind his butler, too engrossed in the shadows that played against Blackjack’s face, wondering who he was, where he came from, and if Bruce could ever earn his love or if there was someone waiting somewhere for him, this Andromeda who had the care of his godson, even, or someone else that Bruce would never know about, even the Ginny mentioned in the file.
Still, Bruce reasoned to himself. He was here now. He was the one who was nursing Blackjack, the one who was holding Blackjack to keep away the horrors of his recent reality, the one who loved him in the here and now. He wouldn’t allow anyone to compete with that and would do everything in his power to quietly show Blackjack that he would be true and that his very being belonged to Blackjack alone.
He’d seen Blackjack at his weakest and loved him for the strength he still retained.
The door clicked open again and Bruce heard Alfred shuffle into the room, turning on a light in the far corner that didn’t even cause Blackjack to stir.
“He should be fully asleep for another two hours,” Alfred admitted quietly at Bruce’s questioning look. “You arrived before the medication had taken its full effect.”
“Of course,” Bruce murmured as he shifted so that Blackjack was now lying across his chest, leaving one of his arms completely free. He didn’t protest at all when half a sandwich was put in one hand, although he felt like he was a child again.
“The D.A.’s office called to officially apologize for Miss Dawes’ insinuations this morning and the breach of police protocol,” Alfred informed him carefully as he sat down in a chair beside the bed, laying the tray with a bottle of water, a banana, and the other half of the sandwich on it.
“Yes. Miss Dawes was acting outside of the system and on a ‘hunch’ in an area that wasn’t her jurisdiction. It seems that if you had been guilty, the trial could have been thrown out by a judge on a technicality.”
“Rachel probably isn’t happy,” Bruce remarked, finishing the half of his sandwich.
Alfred handed him a napkin and then the opened bottle of water. “Miss Dawes did call shortly before I came up and invited you and a Mr. Blackjack to dinner later this week.”
Bruce furrowed his eyebrows. “I told her that he was a private person and might not be staying long.”
“I believe it is the usual behavior in situations such as these. “
“Situations such as these?”
Alfred looked at him for a long moment. “I am afraid, Master Wayne, that it is not my place to say.”
“You’ve been saying that a great deal lately,” Bruce pointed out, rubbing Blackjack’s shoulder as he stirred in his sleep. “I understand that you don’t want to invade Blackjack’s privacy, but in the case of Rachel, the woman who dragged me down to police headquarters and accused me of murder—“
“Which was entirely deserved given the file I read this morning,” Alfred said grimly. “If that file got into the hands of Mr. Blackjack’s government, it could easily begin another war, and what Mr. Blackjack needs is peace.”
Bruce stilled, looking at Alfred. “He’s been in a war,” he murmured, looking back down at the man in his arms. “That explains a few things. The file is safe?”
“Yes,” Alfred agreed. “I didn’t even show it to the physician who insisted on seeing it. I had to pay him extra to take my word on what was happening.”
“This, however, is different from the situation with Rachel. What is going on, Alfred?”
“I believe,” Alfred began carefully, “that Miss Dawes has been waiting.”
“Waiting for you, first to finish Princeton, then to return from your travels, and then to grow up and realize you wanted to get married and have children. If you indeed informed her of your preference, she will want to not only assess his suitability but any weakness he might unknowingly betray.”
“Blackjack’s not well enough,” Bruce instantly replied, “and really shouldn’t be subjected to Rachel’s scrutiny when he was just freed from that hell.”
“My sentiments exactly, sir,” Alfred confessed and then handed Bruce the banana which he had already peeled. “I must confess, however, after our discussion the other day, I had thought you referred to Miss Dawes.”
“Maybe once, before I returned,” he admitted, brushing the back of his fingers against Blackjack’s cheeks. “I fell in love with the lucidity in his eyes. I wanted to keep him safe, get him away.”
“He might return—to his home, and, Master Wayne, it’s a place that neither of us can follow him to.”
“Not even you, who knows such about him?”
“Not even me, I’m afraid,” Alfred admitted. “My grandfather could have, if he were still alive. Then again, a man like him never would have left.”
“Is this place where he left, where he might return, dangerous?” Bruce asked hesitantly, almost afraid of the answer. “As dangerous as Arkham?”
“It used to be worse, much worse,” Alfred admitted. “Now, I cannot say for certain.”