And like a little girl cries in the face of a monster that lives in her dreams: Is there anyone out there? ‘Cus it’s getting harder and harder to breathe.“Harder to Breathe,” Maroon 5
Bruce grimaced as he flexed his back muscles, feeling where he had been hit with a crowbar when a petty criminal was aiming for his head. The past two months had been difficult. Little could be savaged from the ruins of Wayne Manor, and he and Alfred had had to move his equipment to another secure location within Gotham City that had relatively easy access from his penthouse. Every waking second when he wasn’t in his armor was spent at the side of his shared bed with Harry, his Blackjack, soothing him as his body went through the hell of detoxification, wiping away his tears, listening to his moans and his screams, feeding him when he was too weak to do it for himself. Sometimes his beautiful dulled green eyes looked almost insane in their pain, but Bruce reminded himself that it would all be over, that soon the drugs would have left his system completely, the poison would be gone, and then he’d have Harry back—the Harry he had never known, the true version of the man he had fallen in love with.
Nothing had been discussed and so many needed explanations remained unspoken between them. He was aware that Harry knew that he was the Batman, could tell when he came back from a brief meeting at the interim offices of Wayne Enterprises to find newspapers opened to articles about his nighttime activities around Harry. Sometimes he would look at Alfred, hoping he would offer answers, but his butler said nothing, instead going around the room and picking up the discarded pages and leaving the two of them alone.
Ducard—Ra’s al Ghul—Harry’s grandfather—was long gone and probably dead, but Harry never reproached him in his few hours without symptoms, instead moving about the penthouse quietly, reading, or going through catalogues and circling toys for Teddy that Bruce would then order when Harry was asleep and have sent to England. He knew they arrived, an Andromeda Tonks always signed for them, but as far as Bruce could tell there was never any response, even though he’d put his name and address of the company on the first package so that Teddy could write back to Harry if he wanted.
Bruce would whisper words of love and devotion every night as he held Harry in his arms and during the day he would stroke the back of his hand and once even kissed the top of his head as he was leaving for a board meeting. Harry would occasionally smile when he woke up and saw that Bruce was there, but he never returned the feelings, only seeking Bruce for comfort as his body was wracked with pain or for protection as he slept.
He knew Alfred was watching them quietly, but his butler never offered any commentary, only urging Bruce to be patient on the few moments when his impatience at the situation shone out of his eyes after a particularly rough night when he wanted to crawl into Harry’s embrace and yet was too afraid to as Harry had been walking about the penthouse, examining the few pieces of art and seemed to be having a good moment. Bruce wouldn’t allow anything to ruin it—even his own selfishness—when he had sworn to himself he would never push Harry.
Bruce also wasn’t on speaking terms with Rachel. She made Harry anxious and she had tried to stop by once when she knew Bruce was gone—and he couldn’t have her think that she could just appear and have someone who was ill and convalescing serve as her host as she tried to potentially extract information, especially when she had showed up at his interim office once or twice with specific questions about either the night that Crane was murdered or her experiences with the Batman. He had threatened to sue her the second time for defamation of character as he hadn’t slept particularly well the night before as Harry’s withdrawal had been worse and Bruce was tired of her continued suspicions about his connection to Crane, even if they were well-founded.
She hadn’t stopped by again, probably on the insistence of the newly elected District Attorney, Harvey Dent. Now he was an interesting character.
Bruce loved Rachel dearly, she was his oldest friend and he wanted her support at this time in his life, but they had both made it impossible—at least for now.
The press, as well, had taken to stalking him. One had even managed to pose as a tailor’s assistance when he had one of the best in Gotham called to take Harry’s measurements during one of his better days so that he wouldn’t have to wear Bruce’s clothes, however much Bruce liked it. He’d had that particular tailor blacklisted and the reporter thrown out, and fortunately he—a man by the name of Jeremy Phelps—had only gotten a brief glance of Harry before Bruce realized why he looked slightly familiar.
Bruce, with the help of Alfred, had instead taken Harry’s measurements himself and then ordered a basic wardrobe. They could be fitted once Harry was well enough to go anywhere outside of the penthouse, he had decided.
Still, the members of the press were ravenous for news of the celebrity couple. Blackjack’s name still wasn’t known to them and the police report containing Harry’s first name and his relation to the missing arsonist who had burnt down their home was never leaked. All that was known was that Bruce Wayne’s fiancé was a man in his mid-twenties who, according to a nurse who’d given an interview, was “surprisingly cute” for someone suffering from smoke inhalation with burns around his lips and mouth.
Reporters seemed to be everywhere Bruce went and it was only because of the well-placed security on the building that they were kept off the block so that Bruce and Harry wouldn’t be disturbed. Still, that didn’t keep them away. Bruce would see them as he went to work and he had stopped buying Teddy gifts in stores after one photographer published a picture of him purchasing a series of high-end action figures—what young boy didn’t like playing with superheroes and pretending to blow things up?—and wrote that there was a rumor that he and his fiancé were planning on adopting children from a third-world nation. At least that one article, according to Alfred, had made Harry smile and that night when he curled up around Bruce, his head buried in Bruce’s chest, he was a little more affectionate, brushing his knuckles briefly against Bruce’s arm.
When they had moved in officially once Harry was released from the hospital, a few of the neighbors had even tried to gain entry to the penthouse by bringing around gourmet meals (that Harry couldn’t eat because of the healing smoke damage in his throat). Bruce doubted he was popular after Alfred thanked the third busy body and shut the door in her face when she insisted she had to come in to “use the bathroom” although she lived down the hall. Alfred had even taken to having sugar right next to the door for the few neighbors who kept on appearing with the excuse that they had run out.
Bruce winced as he waited in the elevator, just thankful that it was only four in the morning and it would be several hours before Harry woke up, rotating his shoulder to try and ease the pain. It only made it worse.
The doorman at least was discrete about his nocturnal comings and goings. Bruce had almost been afraid that he would go to the papers and that there would be rumors printed that he was having an affair while his fiancé recovered from his injuries. He believed that Harry would dismiss them if he read them—he had the habit of reading the latest gossip when he was lucid, saying that the absurd rumors about him were better than the press he got back in England, which made Bruce wonder just how horrible the papers had been given that the Gotham Times had several morbid theories that Harry was either a gangster, a con artist, or a transgendered man who had only attached himself to Bruce to have his surgeries paid for—still, Bruce didn’t want to have that particular conversation added to all of the other ones that were currently unspoken between them.
The elevator door opened with a soft ping-sound, and Bruce walked out of it, grimacing as pain shot up his back. He’d had worse before, but when he slept with Harry he couldn’t move a lot for fear of waking him or somehow finding himself in a similar position Crane had used when Harry was held captive. He’d been very careful, but Harry had been in Arkham for almost five years, and Bruce knew that it could take years for the memories to begin to fade even just a little and that he would have difficulty trusting a man with his body, even if it was just holding him in his sleep, ever again.
Sliding his key into the lock, he slipped into the room, and allowed his eyes to adjust to the dark. The moon shone through the glass walls and he could see Harry lying on the bed, his hands tucked under his head and the sheets pooled around his waist. He was wearing one of Bruce’s Princeton t-shirts again along with pajama bottoms, causing a smile to form on Bruce’s lips. Carefully Bruce made his way through the open room, toeing off his shoes and pulling his shirt over his head so that he would just have to slip back into his pajamas before crawling into bed, next to Harry.
“You’re later than usual,” a calm voice said, interrupting him, and he turned, shocked, toward Harry who was slowly sitting up.
“Blackjack,” he murmured. “I’m sorry to wake you.”
“I’ve been awake since before you left—four hours ago,” Harry elaborated. When Bruce didn’t immediately respond, he continued, “I’m completely off the drugs now, Bruce, including the sedatives, and you won’t talk to me.”
“I talk to you,” Bruce argued, a little confused as he slipped off his trousers and got dressed for bed.
“About nothing consequential. If you weren’t always here when I was awake, I’d think you were avoiding me. Do you want me to leave, because I can go? I—“
“No,” Bruce said quickly, leaning forward and pressing his finger to Harry’s lips to stop him from saying anything else. “I don’t want you to go.”
Harry stilled and then nodded his head. Carefully, Bruce removed his finger, trying to read the emotion in Harry’s dulled eyes even in the darkness.
“Am I a charity case then?” Harry asked, his voice strong although betraying his exhaustion. “A pet of some sort?”
“Why would you even think that?”
“You don’t talk to me,” Harry repeated. “I’ve been completely clean for a fortnight, and all you ever say are inconsequential remarks about work or what’s in the news, and then you slip out at night as if you think I wouldn’t notice you were gone.”
“I’m not having an affair—“
“No, of course not. I’d be gone if I thought you were or would move to the couch,” Harry replied, turning away and looking out the window. Bruce could see nothing but the back of his head. “You’ve told the entire world that first you’re wooing me and then that we’re engaged. You even sleep in my bed, and yet you haven’t once asked me about my grandfather or told me why you seem to be the Batman. I don’t even know what’s happening with that Rachel Dawes who Alfred says is your closest friend, Bruce. If you really want me to marry you, I can’t live like this. You’re never emotionally present.”
“Of course,” Bruce said, sighing, and then lay down on his side so he didn’t hurt his back. He hissed in pain despite that and Harry turned again, looking down at him.
“You don’t even tell me if you’re hurt. What if I wanted to take care of it? Make sure you were all right?”
Bruce’s breath caught in his throat and, without speaking, he sat back up and pulled off the shirt he had thrown on, showing his back to Harry.
“I can’t see anything,” Harry muttered to himself and a moment later the lights were flicked on, causing Bruce to blink several times. “Merlin, what happened?”
“Crowbar,” Bruce responded and then winced when he felt Harry’s tentative touches around the edges. “He was aiming for my head.”
“Well, at least he missed,” Harry said grimly and a moment later a soft kiss was placed against it as nothing else could be done.
Looking over his shoulder, Bruce saw Harry’s face cast in shadows, emotions of pain and sympathy shining from his eyes.
“Anything else?” Harry asked a moment later, meeting Bruce’s gaze.
“Bloody knuckles, but I patched them up,” Bruce said, showing Harry his hand. “Nothing too serious.”
Harry snorted. “I take it you’ve had much worse, but then again, so have I.”
Bruce turned back around, taking in Harry’s still form and then leaned forward, gently kissing his forehead. “I’ve had much worse,” he responded quietly and then enfolded Harry in a hug, delighting in the feel of Harry pressed against him.
“Why do you do it?” Harry asked several moments later, pulling away and wiping his eyes, which seemed full of tears.
It was a difficult question, one that Bruce had never had to answer before. Alfred and Lucius Fox were the only people who knew, though it was clear that Rachel still suspected, and neither had really asked him why. “My parents,” he finally admitted, not looking Harry in the eye. “They loved Gotham. They believed in it. I’m trying to save it because they couldn’t live to do it themselves.”
“Admirable,” Harry whispered, leaning forward and pressing his forehead against Bruce’s bare shoulder, sending a shiver down Bruce’s spine at the close contact. “Is this—is this the only way to do it?”
“Money helps,” Bruce admitted. “Reinvesting in the city, which I’ve done, but it barely makes a mark, and…” He couldn’t complete the thought, thinking of the night his parents died, of Joe Chill standing over his parents dead bodies with a gun before running, of criminals like Falcone walking the streets and terrorizing everyone.
“And?” Harry asked, raising his head and looking Bruce directly in the eyes, their noses almost touching they were so close to each other.
“I—it—“ Bruce tried to answer, his voice choking up at the compassion in Harry’s dark green eyes.
“Sh,” Harry soothed, reaching up and running his fingers through the hair at the base of Bruce’s neck, sending another visible shiver through Bruce. “It’s all right if you can’t say it. Some things just can’t be spoken,” he admitted with a far off look in his eyes.
“I want to speak them—to you. I don’t want to have any secrets from you, Blackjack.”
“Then you’ll say them when you are ready,” Harry responded carefully. “How long have you been the Batman?”
“Since shortly after I returned. It took me awhile to make the batsuit and get the tumbler—the car.”
“It’s frightening,” Harry mused. “Next-gen technology and militaristic.”
“Wayne Enterprises did design it for the military originally. It pays to be the owner of a company with military contracts.”
“I’m sure it does,” Harry said with a half-smile before his face turned serious again. “My grandfather burnt down your house.”
“I don’t blame you,” Bruce responded, leaning forward and pressing their foreheads together. “I don’t blame you at all.”
Harry took a deep breath. “You should. He wouldn’t have done it if I—“
“He didn’t even know you were there until he found me,” Bruce assured him. “He—I—Those years I disappeared, I wanted to understand the mind of the common criminal.”
Harry leaned away, looking in Bruce’s eyes in confusion before understanding came into his gaze. Bruce missed their closeness, but wouldn’t pressure Harry, wanting him to come to him for affection until he knew that his advances would be completely welcomed.
“All right,” Harry answered carefully.
“I observed them, worked with them, and was actually arrested three years into my travels for trying to steal from Wayne Enterprises. They didn’t know who I was but I was put in prison where Ducard found me.”
Harry looked startled but said nothing.
“He trained me for the League of Shadows, and I advanced until my final test—to kill a thief—but I couldn’t do it. I knew I would be killed if I didn’t so I burnt down their headquarters, the home of Ra’s al Ghul.”
“Who is my grandfather,” Harry responded in recognition.
“He came to burn down my home as I had burnt down his. You had nothing to do with his reasoning, Blackjack, and I wouldn’t care if you had. You’re far too important to me and I’ll protect you from everything.”
Harry looked at Bruce carefully and then bent his head, his messy black hair falling into his eyes. “I haven’t heard from him since that night,” he admitted. “He said he loved me, but there’s been nothing. You haven’t been hiding his letters or something, have you?”
“No,” Bruce replied carefully, reaching forward and holding Harry’s face between his hands. “I wouldn’t be that cruel.”
Harry nodded. “I’m useless to him anyway, now that everything is over,” he said self-deprecatingly, pulling away from Bruce. “My purpose was over by my eighteenth birthday.”
“It’s not—“ Bruce began, looking at Harry desperately and afraid to admit what he knew. “It’s not that.”
“Then what is it?” Harry asked, a slight trace of desperation in his voice. “This place can hardly be a secret. It should have been the first place he looked.”
“I’m sure he would have—if—“ He closed his eyes painfully, not wanting to say the next words. “He was trying to transport a water vaporizer to a water hub. The water supply was doused with his—Crane’s—hallucinogenic drugs. If he had succeeded—“
“You killed him,” Harry whispered brokenly. “You killed him.”
They were silent for several long moments, neither looking at the other until Harry turned away.
“How did you do it?” he asked, his voice hard and resilient.
“We were battling on the train. I had an—ally—destroy the subway tracks and Ducard wasn’t able to get off the train as far as I know.”
Harry turned, his face etched in light and shadows. “You didn’t kill him with you own hands?”
“No. Never. Only Crane. I barely made it out alive—and I would have saved him for you if I could.”
They fell into silence again and after several long minutes, Harry turned off the lights, lying down in the bed. Sighing and unsure whether Harry believed him or not, Bruce lay down, reaching out and pulling Harry to him, only to find a stick pressed to his throat a moment later. The lights flicked back on although he hadn’t heard Harry move to turn them on. Harry’s eyes were wild and full of a deadly power that surprised Bruce. They were the eyes of a soldier, of a killer, of someone who was desperate enough to murder someone in cold blood rather than be hurt again. Harry was almost unrecognizable just by the look, although he still had the same messy black hair and dull green eyes free from the glasses he usually wore.
“Not like that,” Harry whispered desperately as he carefully withdrew the piece of wood—the Deathstick—from Bruce’s throat and slipped it back underneath his pillow. “He always—“
“Not like that,” Bruce agreed in understanding. “I’m sorry.”
“You can’t—not if you’re behind me,” Harry tried to elaborate, his eyes wide and full of fear, “or on top of me.” His lips were pressed in a thin, desperate line and his eyes were shining with wetness.
“Neither. I’m sorry, Blackjack—Harry. I never want to frighten you.”
Nodding after a long moment, Harry pulled his hand out from under his pillow and rested his head on top of his hands, trying it seemed to relax although his body was still taught with tension.
“You’re safe,” Bruce soothed, reaching out carefully and rubbing Harry’s arm gently. “I never want to hurt you. Never.”
Slowly, Harry began to relax and after several long minutes, Bruce got up from the bed to turn out the light, too afraid to reach over Harry in case he became frightened. Slipping back into bed, his eyes sought Harry’s form and he was relieved when Harry shuffled forward, burying his head against Bruce’s chest.
“I killed someone once,” Harry admitted quietly in the darkness, and Bruce forced himself not to tense up at the confession, instead reaching up and running his hand through Harry’s hair.
Bruce didn’t answer, knowing that if he were quiet, Harry would probably talk if he wanted to or perhaps drift off to sleep.
“I didn’t have much of a choice,” Harry finally spoke quietly, his arms coming around Bruce loosely. “He killed my parents—he tried to kill me—and he just kept on trying. I saw a boy I knew slaughtered before my eyes when I was only fourteen on one of his many attempts to kill me, and then my godfather a year after, and then the man who had decided that the only way he could be stopped was if I should die. I was willing to, Bruce, just to have it all end. Nearly did when I was not quite eighteen, and then it was a fight to the death that I only won because I was lucky, but he was dead—and now I know my grandfather fathered my mother so she could give birth to me, someone who would kill him.”
“You’re so much more than that,” Bruce murmured against Harry’s hair. “It’s over now and you did nothing wrong.”
Harry snorted. “He was barely human. He had killed so many, taken over, hunted people down because the wrong type of blood ran in their veins, but I still killed him even though he should have remained dead after my parents’ death.”
Bruce furrowed his brow, slightly confused, but didn’t ask any questions.
Just over Harry’s shoulders he could see the sun begin to rise over Gotham, the sign of a new day, of a new start, a new beginning.
“I wanted to kill Joe Chill,” Bruce confessed in return. “He shot my parents in front of me when I was eight just for the money in their wallets, and he was being let out of prison on good behavior when I was a senior in Princeton.”
“But you didn’t.”
“No,” Bruce agreed, snuggling closer as the darkness in the room became a bit brighter. “I had the gun. It was hidden up my sleeve and I didn’t even care that Rachel was nearby or what would happen to me. I would have spent my life in jail happily, just knowing he was dead like my parents.” He sighed. “I would have done it, killed him if someone hadn’t beaten me to it.”
“I’m sorry,” Harry whispered tiredly, leaning forward and brushing his lips against Bruce’s collarbone.
“That’s when I left. I never quite finished Princeton though they later granted me my diploma. A name will get you anything even if you don’t ask,” he admitted wryly, causing Harry to laugh.
“I’m far too aware of that.”
“You probably are,” Bruce chuckled, breathing in Harry’s scent. “I did, though, kill Crane and I’d do it again. Anything to keep you safe, Blackjack. Anything.”
Harry sighed, squeezing Bruce for a moment before his arms relaxed again. Bruce listened as his breaths evened out, watching the sun rise over the city his parents loved so much and then, finally, fell into sleep himself, contented and happy.