I do not own Batman/Bruce Wayne, Thomas Wayne, Martha Wayne, Alfred Pennyworth, or Gotham City . However, this particular neighborhood in Gotham City and the other characters in this chapter are my creations.

Bruce Wayne, six year-old amateur detective snuck through the garden. His eyes scanned the shrubbery. The detective always found the clue in places like this. He got down on his hands and knees and crawled through the grass and dirt.

Then he found it, something he had to show his mom and dad! He scooped it up and rushed in a side door, through the halls, down the steps, and up to the study door. He threw it open.

"Mom! Dad!"

His parents were there. They had their arms around each other. The buttons of his mother's blouse were undone. The garment was slipping from her shoulders.

At the sight of her son, Martha's face turned redder than her hair. Thomas swept his wife behind him turning around himself as he did so. Then Dr. Wayne looked over his shoulder.

"Do you need something, son?"

"I wanted to show you what I found in the garden."

His mom's petite frame could not be seen behind her husband's taller and broader form, but her voice came from behind it.

"Why don't you go show Alfred, dear? We'll be out to see it soon."

His father turned his head further around without moving any of the rest of him.

"And close the door behind you, will you Bruce? Your mother and I are trying to discuss something very boring, and we don't want to bother you with it."

Martha chuckled.

Bruce went out and slammed the door shut. Boring indeed! He knew his parent's were doing something exciting and hiding it. He'd gone back outside, sat down on the stone steps, and sulked at the fact they were having fun without him. They never even asked to see what he had found when they finally came out.

. . .

Almost twenty years later, Bruce Wayne, adult vigilante, guarded Gotham City's "Red Light district" from atop its tallest apartment building. There he observed what transpired on the streets and fire-escapes below.

The highest murder rate in the entire, gang-ruled city was right here. Most took place between three and six A.M. when the women left the clubs and returned to their apartments. So, he made the neighborhood his last stop before sunrise.

A woman stepped out of her apartment and onto the fire escape. She was wearing a negligée almost as bright a shade of red as her lips. Seconds later a tendril of smoke rose into the night air along with the scent of burning tobacco.

A man wandered the street beneath the woman. She called out to him. The light behind her haloed her hair and outlined her curves. If she was as attractive as she seemed just then, it must have been her night off at the club. More likely she had grown too old and wrinkled for the clubs men entered sober looking for the best. She now caught her customers attention after they had left the best behind and no longer perceived things clearly. She likely kept her room dimly lit and got paid up front.

The man entered the building after she told him her apartment number. The woman went back inside. Batman wondered if he would think her worth the money he'd paid, afterward. He turned his gaze away.

They're a microcosm of Gotham. Dressed and made-up to hide the poverty and despair underneath. Trying to gain money and attention from the blatantly or secretly corrupt, in order to appear unmindful of looks and words from more 'decent' folk.

Here the women wanted money. The men wanted a pleasant experience with a half way decent looking companion. The women who chased Bruce Wayne wanted both. But they wasted their time, he was already married.

The old, broken, faded lady of poor repute known as Gotham City was the true woman of his life. For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death did they part he had committed himself to her. The vow had not been mutual. Still, he would entertain no rivals for his devotion to her, until she needed him no more. It was far more likely he'd die in her service first.

He swept his gaze over the surrounding area watching blurs of movement and listening for raised voices. Not every visitor paid for what they came here for. Victims of these thefts sometimes lived through it. Other times they did not. Few cases were investigated longer than a week.

Bruce wondered how differently history would have had to play out, for those victims to have become teachers, athletes, writers, reporters, chefs, doctors, police officers, diplomats, and wives. What had been the deciding factor that brought them here instead of offices or closets they could hide in with their husbands from inquisitive children? How many dreams of such things had died here? How many children never born, or never known or cared about, by their father's? How many, how much, had really died here? A body count didn't reveal everything.

Through his night vision binoculars, he saw a woman leaving a club. She entered an alley. Mascara-crusted lashes lowered as the woman looked down at the ground before her feet. Her steps were long, but heavy. She was keeping her head bowed. Batman lowered his binoculars to study the woman's surroundings.

A car, parked a little ways off, came to life like a stalking beast. It pulled around and drove in the direction the woman had headed. It could be a coincidence, but . . . .

He started heading in that direction. As he got closer, he heard shouts. The Batman raced along the rooftops to the aid of a Gothamite he'd sworn to protect and honor, though she never heard him say it, or likely believed any man ever would.

. . .

The woman turned the corner and got a few feet before the fastest man grabbed her. In the ensuing struggle he tore off her jacket and shirt.

The other four men caught up. They stopped behind their companion and laughed. The first man threw her into the arms of another who used a knife to cut through the strap of her bra. That man then shoved her to the ground.

The third man approached her. His grin widened as he took a few more steps toward his prey. His right hand held a knife.

A soft whirring sound cut through the air. A clang echoed through the alley. The man gripped his right hand with his left, clenched his teeth, and said a foul word. Then he peeled his left hand away.

A straight, floss-thin cut ran across the back of his hand. He looked up. A black, razor edged piece of metal was sticking out of the wall in front of him. The other men gasped behind him.

He turned. A black-garbed form planted its feet in his gut. The force sent him sprawling into a pile of garbage bags. The figure straightened and growled down at him.

"Leave."

One of the men lifted a gun. Another batarang flashed through the darkness. The weapon dropped into a pile of litter.

The two others rushed The Dark Knight. Pressing both hands together, Batman drove them upwards into the jaw of the first man to reach him. He ducked under the punch of the next man, grabbed his arm and flipped him over his back, tossing him on top of the first man. The vigilante glared at them both.

"I said, 'leave.'"

After getting to their feet, all five men did. The Dark Knight listened until every set of running steps had faded away. Then he studied the victim.

The woman had crawled into a corner formed by the brick wall and a dumpster. There she'd drawn herself up into the fetal position. Her chest was hidden behind her legs. Her forehead rested on her knees. Loose, dirty hair fell over her face and form. She was rigid. No sobs racked her body or disturbed the silence.

Batman looked away to study the clothes strewn on the ground. They would no longer stay on, let alone cover her. He walked toward the woman. She didn't flee, speak, or even look up. He stopped when he came within a few feet of her.

. . .

The heavy footsteps stopped. She tightened her grip around herself and waited. Nothing happened. That was somehow more frightening than what she expected to hear. It didn't feel as if the presence was either approaching or retreating. The woman half-opened one of her eyes.

A long, black cloth hung in the air about a foot from her face. She looked up. A hand sheathed in a glove was holding it out.

Both eyes snapped open. She leaned backwards and looked up. The rest of the individual attached to the hand was the strangest person she'd ever seen. And she had seen quite a few strange people.

He stood over her, rather than crouched over her like a monster ready to spring. He looked more like a doorman. Instead of holding a door open for her though, he was holding out his cape.

Her gaze darted from the cape to his face and back again. Then her hand shot out and snatched it from him. She wrapped herself in it. Thrown over and around her shoulders, it hung down to her feet. Once hidden behind it, she stood up and looked him in the face.

"What are you?"

"The night-watch."

She blinked. Then her face twisted into a sneer. Laughter bubbled up from her mouth for two minutes. It could have been mistaken for gut-wrenching sobs. After another minute and a half passed before she found enough breath to form words.

"Really? What do you want for your services?"

The expression on his face didn't change. He replied in the same voice he'd used before.

"I volunteered."

Another chuckle sounded through the night. Panic and nervous energy from the attack were finding an outlet in the laughter.

"Volunteered? You just volunteer to dress up like this and wonder around knocking guys on their (censored) who try to 'get some,' for free, from a girl like me?"

"Yes."

The woman's eyes flew open. Her jaw dropped. A glow of stunned wonder washed over her face. For a moment, she could not find her breath, let alone utter a sound. The Batman's own expression, finally, changed.

He flinched, as if a needle had been jabbed into one of his nerves. The woman tilted her head.

"You're serious!"

"I usually am."

The woman continued to not blink. Her mouth remained open.

"Huh!"

She dropped her gaze and stared at nothing. After a moment, she tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. Then she looked back up at him.

"So . . . , how does this work?"

"I should walk you home."

The woman's eyes narrowed. Her body hunched over. She drew into herself. Her expression and posture resembled a harassed cat. Batman thought he could see the old demons of cynicism and anger rushing back into her soul in droves. Her voice became a strangled growl, but there was also a note of triumph in it.

"Oh. And what happens when we get there?"

Without stepping back, Batman shifted his weight to give the victim more personal space. Her reactions were primal instinct. He needed to behave as if he was rescuing something trapped, terrified, and wild. In that situation you guided them toward freedom. Encourage them here and discourage them there. Let them find their own way out.

He moved his eyes from a direct gaze into hers, to just slightly above them, neither making full eye contact, nor looking at anything below her eyes, but not seeming to ignore her either. His tone was not exactly humble, but it was low and measured, the voice of professional cordiality between equals. The tone a police officer has when he pulls up to your car parked on the shoulder of the highway, and asks if you require assistance.

"I'd appreciate it, if once you get back to your apartment, you put something else on and give me back my cape. If you throw it out a window, I'll have no need to follow you inside the building. All I need to know is what side of the structure your apartment window is on."

An eyebrow rose. The bitterness and anger fell away again. The glow came back in full force. Her voice was softer, yet still had a shrillness from held back tears and clinging doubt.

"That's it?"

He nodded.

"That's it."

The woman appeared to wake up from a dream. She remembered she'd had a goal in mind before the whole event occurred. There was no reason to just stand where she was any longer.

"Oh. I guess I'll lead the way then."

They stepped into the darkness. Batman could have run along the rooftops, keeping up with and keeping an eye on her from above. Instead, he walked beside her, matching his steps with hers. They walked a few feet apart like acquaintances discussing the show they'd just seen together both bored to tears with the subject. The circumstance could not have been more different.

He kept his distance out of respect. She gave him space, because she felt separated from him somehow. Not simply because she did not know him. She was used to approaching men she didn't know. But he felt like a different kind of man than the ones she was used to.

Somehow, he still seemed to fit into this world, her world, the realm of far too many like herself. It was as if the cries of all the women who'd ever lived there had distilled into a dark guardian, more phantom than flesh. She felt like you could say or do something to break the spell and make him vanish.

His demeanor fit their surroundings' ambiance of despair. Yet, she also sensed he couldn't exist in this world without changing it. She felt a little in awe of him. She wanted to view all of him at once, the way one steps back to look at a piece of art.

The fabric she was wrapped in felt and looked strange as well. She rubbed a long fingernail along it. It didn't even begin to tear. Yet, it was so light, she barely knew she wore it. The cloth was so black it seemed to reach out and absorb the light around it. It was a piece of him and he had loaned it to her. Without it his form was like a statue meant to be the personification of the ideal male form.

"Are you sure you don't want to come in?"

Part of her wanted him to. Part of her did not. All of her wanted to hear his answer.

"Yes."

She shrugged and kept walking.

"Is it because I'm not pretty enough for you?"

He shook his head.

"No. I appreciate beauty. I just don't base my choices on it. You don't lack it if I did. I mean to watch these streets all night. And I have no desire to be another man who takes something from you before leaving you alone again."

She smiled sadly, but the glow hadn't diminished from her face.

"You really are an old-fashioned knight in shining armor, aren't you?"

He shook his head again.

"Some Knights in shining armor were like the men who attacked you. Most men who are not like them, never wore armor."

She smiled and fingered her covering.

"Or a cape?"

"Or a cape."

"Whatever they wore, there aren't any left but you."

"There are a few more I know of in this city, and a few more than that scattered over the globe."

She glanced at him, but then turned back and continued.

"Not nearly enough, not compared to the other kind this "fine" city's filled with."

His eyes narrowed.

"No . . . not nearly enough."

She looked up at him. His shoulders had slumped. For a moment, she felt sorrier for him than herself. They got to her apartment building. She jerked her head in the direction of one of its sides.

"My window faces the West."

"I'll wait beneath the fire escape."

Then the glow was gone. She fingered the cape around her shoulders more purposefully. A sly slant came over her eyes. A wicked note of humor surfaced in her voice.

"You know, I might try to keep this cape. Its special isn't it? Someone will give me a nice wad of green for something like this. I'd have to be an idiot, or a lot better person than you'll find in this place, to pass that up. Not everyone ignores opportunities like you."

His gaze fixed itself on a place just above her eyes again.

"You could."

The woman blinked. Then raised an eyebrow.

"Would you come after me for it?"

"No. I'd track down whoever you sold it to."

The wicked gleam came back into her eyes. Her crimson mouth twisted into a smirk. The words it formed came out in a low, triumphant drawl.

"So it'd just be their loss?"

He shifted his gaze one degree lower. His eyes looked directly into hers.

She shrank back a fraction. She was a little afraid, though of what she didn't know. The lines of his face softened. A note of sadness rang in his voice.

"You could say that, but some would say otherwise."

Then he turned. He stepped into the shadows. They swallowed him. The woman's eyes widened. She stepped inside. She suddenly felt more vulnerable to the evil that seemed always present in this place.

. . .

His gaze pierced the darkness. He waited, taking in the sight of her building of residence. The fire escapes on the West side of the building were not even close to safety code. He wished his suggestion to her didn't include them.

The chances of her tossing out his cape were not great. He'd wait though. He'd told her he would. And, his cape couldn't fall into certain hands.

He would have to track it down if she hocked it. Thankfully, he doubted her usual contacts would know how to take full advantage of it. He was not sorry he'd given it to her. There was no honor in making a woman march half naked beside you through the streets, or even alone through the halls of her apartment building. From now on, though, he would bring something for situations like these other than a length of advanced, experimental cloth.

A creak echoed through the air. He looked up. A form wrapped in a bathrobe with wild, dirty hair stepped out onto the fire escape. One of its arms tossed something over the rail. A length of cloth drifted downwards.

Madge watched as an arm whipped out and seized the cape before vanishing back into the longer, but not blacker, shadows. Even after it disappeared, she continued to gaze down from her perch, trying to decide if she was more surprised at him or herself.

She turned back into her room and took out her sketch book. There was pitifully little she could do to fight against her circumstances and those who took advantage of them. She had one power, though, that her peers did not. It comforted her even more than her scotch bottle and cigarettes.

When she was little, Madge had learned to draw. She'd never believed she could make a living at it, few artists can. Yet, if the right people had seen them, she might not have to continue in her current line of work.

The characters she sketched were always dark, frightening demons, with familiar faces. Almost always. Tonight she drew something a little different. Her subject was dressed like a demon, but his expression was kind. Partly hidden in shadow, partly exposed to the light, he looked down with gentle eyes. He held out a long, black piece of cloth. When she was finished, Madge took a certain pride she hadn't felt in a long time writing, "The Night Watch" over it.

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