I’m all strung out, My heart is fried, I just can’t get you off my mind.“Your Love is My Drug,” Kesha
It had been three days—three long days since Blackjack went into full withdrawal even though he was being weaned carefully. Bruce had shut himself in his old room, caring for Blackjack with his own hands, telling Alfred to clear his schedule entirely. Not even Gotham was more important to him than the man shivering and sweating in bed, his eyes rolling back in his head. It was absolute torture for Bruce to be able to do nothing other than bathe him, feed him, and hold him through the worst of it.
“What of the party, Master Wayne?” Alfred asked him quietly as he ran a washcloth down Blackjack’s face.
“It doesn’t matter. Cancel it,” Bruce said dismissively. “I’d rather spend my thirtieth birthday with someone who mattered, not pretending to be someone I’m not.”
Alfred cleared his throat carefully. “It will create a great deal of speculation, Master Wayne.”
“Then let them speculate,” he replied as he dipped his washcloth into a bowl of cold water and then pressed it carefully against Blackjack’s forehead. “Put it about that I’ve left the country or something—or that I’m wooing my future spouse.” He glanced back at Alfred with a smile touching his lips.
“I don’t believe that would be wise, sir,” Alfred commented carefully, taking the bowl of water to replenish it. “You don’t want to put undo pressure on Mr. Blackjack, especially at such a vulnerable time in his life, though I daresay he’s had worse.”
Bruce’s eyes flashed black. “What could possibly be worse than this?”
“Indeed,” Alfred whispered. “I thank the Lord every day that it is no longer as it was. Every day.”
Bruce stared at him in shock before turning once again to Blackjack. “No names will be mentioned,” he reasoned, “and I doubt many would even think to connect Blackjack to the rumor given my past—dates,” he said diplomatically.
Alfred chuckled behind him, placing a fresh bowl of ice water carefully on the edge of the bed. “I doubt few would, even if they knew of Mr. Blackjack’s existence.”
Carefully, Bruce allowed the back of his fingers to trail down Blackjack’s cheek comfortingly as his body shivered. “He’s so beautiful, even now,” Bruce murmured. “I look at him and I want to take away all his pain, give him the strength to live another day, to make him smile. I spent years roaming the earth, trying to understand the world, Alfred, and one thing I did learn is that sometimes you have to be honest. He deserves to know my intentions and know that I will never force anything on him unlike—others. I would alienate him, I think, otherwise.”
“A private wooing it is, then, Master Wayne,” Alfred answered simply, a darkness in his eyes as he looked at Bruce who was now staring at him questioningly. “The Times, I’m certain, will be interested in this latest development.”
Bruce forced a laugh. “I daresay the board will be pleased. Stocks will probably rise at the announcement that my limited days as a billionaire playboy might just be over.”
“Undoubtedly. I only hope that if Mr. Blackjack returns your affections that this honesty extends to your other activities. He does not deserve to be just a beard like your previous social engagements were.”
“When he loves me,” Bruce confessed. “I wouldn’t put such a burden on him otherwise. He needs to get better first.”
“That, I believe, is the wisest thing you’ve said all day,” Alfred remarked as he walked out the door, it clicking shut behind him.
“I think,” Bruce murmured to the sleeping and shivering Blackjack, “that Alfred disapproves of me as your suitor, Blackjack. Why, I could not possibly say. I would have assumed it would be the other way around. Then again, I already know I don’t deserve you.” He sighed as Blackjack turned onto his side in his sleep, sweat pouring down from his scalp as he shivered. He was under all the blankets Bruce could find to keep him warm despite his fever. Bruce had known the withdrawal would be horrible, but it broke his heart to be forced to watch it and do so little.
Bruce spent every waking and sleeping moment in the bedroom with Blackjack, washing him, injecting him at the prescribed time with smaller and smaller doses of the poison Crane had prescribed to a healthy and sane man.
He was surprised just how much media attention Alfred’s carefully placed comment had created, and the press was running wild with speculation as to the identity of the future Mrs. Wayne. He was linked romantically to almost every woman he had ever been seen with and many that he had never even met, from high end politicians to Oscar winning actresses and even a Bunny, which had him laughing quietly to himself as he ate lunch one day at Blackjack’s bedside. What surprised him the most, however, was the speculation that he was trying to woo Rachel Dawes. A crafty reporter had dug up their childhood friendship that had continued until Bruce had disappeared from public life.
Alfred informed him that he had received several well wishes by telephone as well as an array of birthday gifts that Bruce didn’t bother to open. He doubted that they actually meant much of anything apart from trying to buy his goodwill or show that the giver could spend the most money on him. He could always have Alfred open them and make a list for him, and then some secretary would write thank you notes that he would sign without a second thought.
The only work he did at all was place calls to the state’s legislatures about the possibility of a bill on civil unions being proposed to the House of Representatives and the State Senate.
“Someone’s going to talk,” Alfred reminded him as they sat by Blackjack’s bedside on the fourth day, eating their lunches on a tray while watching Blackjack for any signs of worsening. “All of those politicians have more underlings than you can imagine.”
“Try me,” Bruce responded with a grin. “I am the owner of Wayne Industries after all.”
“Yes, but these are politicians. Their subordinates aren’t paid to keep secrets but to leak them at the appropriate time.”
“Agreed—but they are also weary of losing my private or public support, and I have nothing to hide.”
“I’m certain some would beg to differ.”
Bruce stared at him a long moment before breaking into a smile. “My public image has nothing to hide,” he amended.
“Except that he is a romantic at heart, Master Wayne. You seem to have fallen in love with a mental patient who was completely sane and then broke him from his prison, murdering his tormentor. It’s the stuff Viennese operas.”
“I never knew you were an opera enthusiast,” Bruce commented, finishing off his cod.
“I still have a few surprises left in me, I would imagine. If I may say so, you’re risking a great deal on a gamble.”
“Life is sometimes a gamble,” Bruce countered, looking lovingly over at Blackjack who, for once, was sleeping peacefully. “If you risk nothing, then nothing can be gained.”
“In the past, at least according to the press, Mr. Blackjack has never given any indication for either wealthy and well-known paramours or for men.”
Bruce’s eyes snapped up. “What do you know?”
“I took the liberty of doing some research around the time that Mr. Blackjack disappeared from society—back in 1998. His previous girlfriend was quite vocal about his absence and gave several tear-filled interviews.”
“That was seven years ago,” Bruce argued.
“Yes, but for five of them he’s been trapped in a mental facility where he was continually and brutally violated by his physician. Master Wayne, you are physically strong and a man. You won’t need drugs or handcuffs to subdue him and you’ve already effectively placed him under your power. He’ll soon see the parallels to his previous situation.”
Bruce clenched his jaw. “Why don’t you really want me to pursue him, Alfred? I know there’s something.”
Alfred hesitated for a long moment, his eyes lingering on Bruce’s face. “You don’t belong in his world. Neither of us do.”
“You’ve said that before.”
“And I will say it again,” Alfred stated firmly. “Many won’t take kindly to it—“
“—including yourself,” Bruce interjected, but Alfred ignored him.
“—and he deserves better than to be a trophy husband or a man who is forced to keep the secrets of the Batman, never knowing if you’re coming home alive. He’s had too much death in his life. He’s seen too many people murdered in front of him and you added to it the night you rescued him.”
“I did it for him,” Bruce whispered angrily, noticing that Blackjack was shifting in his sleep.
“Master Wayne, you did it for yourself.”
“I’m not a mindless killer.”
The two stared at one another for several long moments until Blackjack moaned and Bruce was instantly beside him, holding his hand and brushing his soaking fringe from his face. As dark lashes fluttered open, Bruce breathed a sigh of relief and reached for a glass of water.
“Hello, there,” he murmured kindly. “Are you thirsty?”
Blackjack looked at him in confusion for a few moments before nodding carefully and Bruce helped him prop himself up on a few pillows so that he could drink without choking. Blackjack took several long gulps before turning his head away and resting his head tiredly on the pillow. “Glasses,” he murmured, and Bruce furrowed his brows in confusion.
“You didn’t have glasses when I rescued you,” he apologized. He looked over to Alfred in question.
“I’m certain that there was a puff piece at some point that mentioned his prescription. I’ll go research that now, Master Wayne.” He got up and bowed to the guest. “It’s a pleasure to see you once again awake, sir.”
“We should have your approximate prescription by tomorrow,” Bruce comforted Blackjack who was looking around blearily. At the continued confused look on his face, Bruce continued, “You’re going through withdrawal from anti-depressant and anti-psychotic drugs. We’re weaning you off them slowly to minimize the withdrawal effects as much as possible.”
Blackjack nodded once and turned onto his side, taking in Bruce openly.
“You’ve been asleep for almost four days,” Bruce continued, hoping his presence and voice would comfort Blackjack. “I’ve taken to calling you Blackjack as I still don’t know what your name is and Alfred won’t tell me.”
Blackjack offered a small smile and an arched eyebrow before once again closing his eyes.
“It’s simple really. You have black, messy hair, could potentially be good at playing cards, and it was your room number back there,” he added quietly. “One of the Assistant District Attorneys was unfortunately looking into me on the night I broke you out, so I used you coming to visit me as a distraction, and had to use a name. I hope you don’t mind.” He reached out and carefully brushed Blackjack’s hair away from his eyes. “Are you hungry?”
Slowly Blackjack shook his head and Bruce continued to loosely run his fingers through Blackjack’s hair carefully.
“Well, there’s cake tomorrow,” Bruce continued quietly, “unless Alfred is angry at me for cancelling my birthday party.”
Dark green eyes fluttered open tiredly, looking at Bruce in question.
“I don’t like any of the guests. It was just for appearances anyway, and you’re much more important,” Bruce soothed.
“You don’t know me,” Blackjack murmured, his voice cracking.
“Not yet,” Bruce agreed. “But I know that you’re strong and brave, beautiful, loving, wealthy and famous according to Alfred. I know you’re a man of principles and that you’re selfless. I know that when you can’t sleep deeply unless you’re drugged or you feel completely safe. Should I continue?”
The man stared at Bruce and then nodded.
“I know that you want a family but think that you will never have one,” Bruce whispered, lying down beside the man, watching his every move in case he showed the smallest sign of discomfort. “I know that you left England for some reason, something important, and possibly weren’t thinking of returning although you loved Teddy from afar. I know that despite leaving you thought of returning for Teddy and you’ve thought even more of taking him with you, but Andromeda somehow prevented you.”
“How?” Blackjack rasped in confusion.
“He’s your son in everything but blood which makes me think that Andromeda must be his mother, and she won’t let you have him.”
Blackjack’s eyes widened slightly in surprise before he nodded.
“I know you crave affection,” Bruce whispered, slowly reaching out and cupping Blackjack’s cheek. “You haven’t had it in years—not true affection while you were there—and I know that I want to give it to you for the rest of your life if you’ll let me.”
A shiver ran through Blackjack, and Bruce withdrew his hand gently.
“I know from your eyes that you have loved and lost far too many times. I know that your parents and perhaps any siblings you had are somehow gone because they didn’t come searching for you when you were locked up. I know you’re hiding from something—and it doesn’t matter what it is to me,” he amended, when Blackjack flinched imperceptibly. “We’re all hiding from something.”
A small smile played on Blackjack’s parched lips and carefully Bruce sat up and got the glass of water again, lifting Blackjack’s head up so he could drink. When he was finished, Bruce looked at him with a glint in his dark eyes.
“I know you have good instincts as you let me bring you here and nurse you, and yet you never trusted Crane from what I can tell, and I also know that all of Gotham is trying to figure out exactly who I am spending my birthday with. The latest speculation,” he added picking up the morning’s Times and glancing through it, “is a Pussycat Doll.” He snorted. “I don’t even know what that means,” he confessed, “but apparently it’s love at first sight and we’re planning a late summer wedding. Oh, and there is more than one Pussycat Doll and there are photographs.” He angled them toward Blackjack and he peeked toward them, frowning. “I had the same thought,” Bruce agreed, folding the paper back again and tossing it to the side.
“Is that usual?” Blackjack quietly asked, reaching out and tugging on Bruce’s sleeve to have him resume his position on the bed.
Bruce smiled down at him and let himself be drawn down, taking Blackjack into his arms and running his hand up and down his arm comfortingly. “The press?”
A nod against his shoulder told Bruce what he needed to know. “Yes, unfortunately. I disappeared for seven years and then returned to public speculation. I like to keep them on their toes.”
His hand stilled momentarily on Blackjack’s shoulder before it continued its journey up through Blackjack’s hair, stroking it comfortingly.
“They can’t find you here, Blackjack, not unless you want them to or if you want to leave.”
It wasn’t until several moments later that Bruce realized that Blackjack had fallen asleep curled around him.
Bruce was surprised the next day when Alfred came up to the room and told him that Rachel was there to see him. He had just finished giving Blackjack his medication, which quelled the shivering and chattering of his teeth, and was reading him the gossip columns of the papers—which mainly were speculating on his mystery romance.
“An Argentinean diplomat,” he read aloud. “There’s even a picture of the two of us talking at a function.” He furrowed his eyebrows. “I think she was asking me the time in this one. Apparently, her marriage has been rocky recently and her husband has filed for a divorce. She’s thirty-five and this would be her third marriage.” He grimaced.
Blackjack smiled at him, a new set of glasses perched on his nose. He was sitting up in bed and was playing with a pack of cards that Alfred had brought him earlier when Blackjack decided he should at least learn the game he was supposed to be good at. He refused to play with Bruce until he at least got the concept down and with his withdrawal it made it slightly difficult.
“This one is slightly more original. A Columbia undergraduate student who happens to be the daughter of a Yakuza in Japan. She’s nineteen years old and a Gender Studies major.”
Blackjack glanced at him in confusion. “What?”
“Gender Studies,” Bruce elaborated. “Also, there is no accompanying photograph but she has stated several times on her blog that only someone as wealthy as me would possibly be suitable and, well, never mind.”
“What does it say?” Blackjack asked slyly.
“Her blog is rather graphic on the subject of my person. There’s an excerpt that had to be edited for publication.”
“There must be something more interesting in the news,” Blackjack pointed out, “apart from your supposed fiancée.”
“The only thing else they’re reporting on is Arkham, which is all idle speculation and not remotely entertaining,” Bruce answered truthfully.
He glanced up and Blackjack was chewing his lower lip in worry.
“You didn’t exist,” Bruce assured him, leaning forward and smiling sadly at Blackjack. “Your unofficial file is gone, all that could exist is hearsay, if that. It turns out Crane was very thorough and had all security footage destroyed at the end of each week, so no one will come and find you.”
“They’ll come and find you,” Blackjack insisted instead, his dark eyes looking hauntingly into Bruce’s. They reminded Bruce of the green sea or even moss in the darkness of a late storm.
“They tried and failed. I have an airtight alibi, and I took out the cameras and covered up my prints. You’re the only one who saw me there.”
“Why? You never told me why you came for me. Why am I even at your house and not at some hospital?”
“You were completely sane and I knew what was happening to you,” Bruce admitted, his throat tightening at the memory of Crane. “I couldn’t leave you there and when I discovered from an Assistant DA that there was no legal recourse if you didn’t exist, I took matters into my own hands.”
Blackjack glanced down at the cards in his hand, a king and a four. “Why am I here then?”
“Because I want to love you in any way you’ll let me, Blackjack.”
Gasping, Blackjack’s eyes met Bruce’s. “That’s where all the rumors are coming from—about an engagement.”
“They blew it out of proportion,” Bruce argued, trying to be casual. “I never mentioned a currently existing engagement.”
“Just a future one,” Blackjack sighed, leaning against his pillows and letting the cards fall from his hand. “I’ve never been just loved for me before.”
“Neither have I.”
“Two wealthy orphans with our parents murdered in front of us,” Blackjack mused, startling Bruce. “Of course, I was too young to remember it, but still.”
Bruce opened his mouth, ready to answer when a knock of the door signaled Alfred’s entrance.
“Pardon me, but Miss Dawes is here to see you, Master Wayne.”
“I won’t go down to the station again without a warrant for my arrest,” Bruce answered casually, rolling his eyes at her persistence.
“I believe she came to give you a birthday gift,” Alfred responded carefully, “and also in hopes to meet the elusive Mr. Blackjack. She also asked me to remind you that she is your oldest friend if you refuse the second request.”
“Yes, well, Blackjack isn’t well—“ Bruce began, but Blackjack was putting away his cards and looking up in curiosity.
At Bruce’s questioning look, he sighed. “I want to see the woman who dragged you down to the police station on a hunch, and considering what you said to the papers, I’m even more curious as there was speculation that she was the future Mrs. Wayne.”
“You’re not well—“
“I’m better than yesterday and I’ve lived through much worse. My body’s acclimating to the lower dosage and as long as I don’t try to walk or make any sudden movements, I’m fine.—I’m curious, Bruce. I want a distraction from Arkham and from our imposing marriage that you’ve informed the press about. You can’t even legally marry me if you wanted to.”
“In 2000 it was legalized in the state of Vermont and in several other states since.”
Blackjack blinked at Alfred and then looked over at Bruce. “You’re offering politicians their support to have it legalized here, aren’t you?”
Bruce didn’t bother to deny it as it was clearly true. He’d promised to himself that he would be honest with Blackjack in everything possible to establish a sense of trust between them.
“I could be married,” Blackjack pointed out, his voice brittle. “Unavailable. Not interested. Straight.” He sighed and crawled under the covers. “I think I’m tired.”
“Blackjack,” Bruce whispered in concern, but Blackjack flinched away from him.
“That’s not my name,” he said angrily in return. “I want to be alone for awhile.”
In confusion, Bruce looked over to Alfred who motioned toward the door. “It’s a side effect of the withdrawal,” Alfred elaborated as he led Bruce down the hall. “The physician told us that he could have sudden mood swings as his blood chemistry begins to normalize again. It’s a good sign that he’s able to get angry.”
Bruce ran a hand down his face. “Of course. I was just surprised as he seemed to be doing so well today.”
“He won’t be doing well for at least a month, Master Wayne,” Alfred confided, “and probably much longer. Didn’t you read the added notes I put in his file?”
“You added notes?” Bruce asked in confusion.
“Yes, Master Wayne. Anti-psychotics are strong and even when weaned off properly, it is still an unpleasant and long experience.”
Bruce nodded his head. “Well, let’s see what Rachel wants.”
She was waiting in one of the many drawing rooms on the bottom floor, looking around at the photographs Bruce hadn’t moved since he inherited house while he was still a child. Turning to him with a smile, she looked over his shoulder and then frowned when she saw no one. “Where is Blackjack?”
A sense of possessiveness and dread rose within him at the expression in her eyes, but he forced himself to push it away and adopt a calm attitude. “He’s on the phone to his godson,” he lied smoothly.
“Oh,” she said, clearly disappointed. “Will he be long?”
“It’s already been over an hour, and Teddy just keeps on talking,” Bruce elaborated. “You know how children are and Blackjack is devoted to his godson.”
“Of course. How admirable,” Rachel said, pushing her dark hair behind her ear. She bit her lip and turned her head to the side for several long moments before turning back to Bruce. “How goes the campaign?”
“Campaign?” he laughed, seeing a hint at the girl he had befriended so many years ago. “Well, I think. We’ve been laughing over the rumors in the newspapers.”
“Congratulations on your supposed engagement to the hotel heiress,” Rachel teased, smiling. “I’m sure you’ll be happy together.”
“As happy as I would be with any of them, I imagine,” Bruce said, grimacing. “I saw they put you in there.”
“Yes. I was followed by reporters until I definitively stated that our friendship had never been romantic,” she replied with a slight wistfulness in her voice. A hint of awkwardness lingered between them, before Rachel pushed it away, holding out her present. “Happy Birthday, Bruce.”
“Thank you,” he murmured, taking the case and opening it briefly to reveal the arrowhead they had found and fought over when they were children, just before he fell into the old well for the first time. “Finders Keepers.”
“Finders Keepers,” she nearly whispered, shifting her weight from one foot to another. “Well, I won’t keep you, Bruce.” She leaned forward and kissed his cheek for a moment too long and then rushed out of the room.
That night when Bruce slipped back into his bed, he smiled when Blackjack instantly turned toward his warmth and snuggled against his chest. Rachel’s kiss was completely forgotten in Bruce’s hopes for the future.