Title: Time Will Tell: Prologue
Author: DC Luder
Summary: First story in the Series of Three. After a tragic injury, Bruce must make the long road to recovery with the help of family and friends.
Rating: T for violence, language and adult themes
Infringements: All recognizable characters belong to DC Comics, not DC Luder.
Author's Note: This chapter had been altered from its original version (2-3-10)
"A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer."
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Summer had yet to start but the weather was already miserably humid and warm.
I sat perched atop Wayne Tower, surveying the city with binoculars. The night had been relatively quiet with nothing more than a few dozen felonies aborted and avoided.
Perhaps tonight would be an early night.
And perhaps I would actually make it to Selina's for our late dinner.
Our relationship had taken a sudden turn in the road nearly seven months earlier. After years of taunting and chasing one another, it had finally erupted into something more than a game of chase. Selina had been there from the beginning and would most likely be there at my end. I had been looking at our time together recently and questioning if I had wanted more.
I scowled at myself. No, I had been wondering if I deserved more.
My life had never been one of joy and happiness. Even as a child I had been more serious then my peers. And after the death of my parents, reality had become far too overwhelming. I had sacrificed everything to become the Batman. Friends, family, trust, love…
"Breaker one-nine, radio check. This is Rodger Dodger looking for Smiles Are Frowns Upside Down, over."
"Nightwing," I replied hoarsely. Even at his age he still enjoyed playing with the comm. link…
He had made the trip to Gotham at whim, visiting with Alfred, Tim and myself before joining in on patrols. A surprise, but certainly not an unwelcome one.
"Well, I'm heading home, I still have to wrap things up in the Haven before I can wrap myself up in a down comforter."
"It's quiet here. Need any help?" I asked, the only sign of appreciation I would offer him.
"Nah, she's been behaving herself lately… for once. Behave yourself. Over and out."
I suppressed a small smile of pride as I cut the transmission. Dick had been the closest thing I had ever had to a son, perhaps more so than Jason and most recently Tim. As much as I had been a clueless father figure when he was younger, every time I thought of him as a grown, functional, somewhat sane part of society…
Well, it made me feel a bit better.
After checking the time to be a little after two, I decided to return to the Mobile to continue patrols with the company of climate control. Between the four of us, every borough had been visited, a feat that had been impossible when I had first started myw ar on crime.
Perhaps Gotham could be without her savior for an hour or two…
As I moved to enter the Mobile, I thought of the small velvet box that sat in the bottom of a trunk in the rear of my walk-in closet. It was in a yellow gift bag hidden amongst the extra clothing within. The box contained something that I had spent nearly one hundred and fifty thousand dollars on three weeks earlier.
After weeks of tormenting thoughts, I had decided to buy the ring, just in case the opportune moment presented itself. Of course, no rational thought had been used in the plan, just pure desire and hope. A leap of faith. My internal drive had urged me into the jewelry store, to select the diamond ring set in the gold band and hand over my credit card with a smile. The cashier had smiled as well, saying something about one special lady.
That she was.
And there it sat, in my closet, buried beneath socks. Although paranoid, I had hopes that Alfred wouldn't come across it before Saturday, despite the fact that he already had suspicions. Suspicions that were only fueled when I had told him that we would be dining at the manor instead of in town. Since we had resumed courting one another, Alfred had been beyond supportive, no doubt just as grateful that she had returned to my life.
He had once told me that she was Godsend as she was the first woman to make me appreciate life. Not only others, but my own as well.
Although I sacrificed my life for Batman, I had begun to wonder what I would to have Selina at my side. Normal thoughts of having her as my wife and someday the mother of my child seemed alien to me. What would it be like to wake every single morning to see her face, peaceful with sleep?
Although it was anyone's rightful with to be happy, I still found myself wondering if I too bore that right. What would I surrender for that right, for her?
We had casually discussed the future less than a handful of times. Although no simple question, let alone a simple one to answer, she had inquired as to how long I saw myself protecting Gotham.
The only reply I was able to give her was that I would stop when I was no longer able to do what was necessary. When she asked what that was, I had simply told her that I had no idea.
She had nodded, kissed me and then said, "Fair enough."
End of discussion.
But her question had brought up a valid point, one I had never truly considered in my tie in the cowl. What would make me quit? Paralysis hadn't stopped me. The death of my colleagues and even protégés hadn't either. Of all the obstacles I had ever faced, nothing had ever forced me to consciously consider ending it all for good.
Taking the driver's seat, I hit the ignition, sitting motionless as I stared at the empty street before me.
Selina had asked me a simple question as we shared a bottle of wine on her couch at three in the morning, and somehow I was debating my future. She had taken me back into her life when she had no reason to ever talk to me again. I had bought a ring for her despite never having any intention of proposing to her…
Shifting into gear, the Mobile began to creep forward as my mind tried to regain focus.
Oracle's face appeared on the center console's LCD, "You don't have anything on your plate, do you?"
Thankful for the distraction, I curtly replied, "No."
"GCPD is moving into the French Quarter. Looks like a tip came through and Pasqualle's out to buy it tonight. SWAT and State police are moving into place as we speak. Dad's at his office still, but he'll be on his way down soon."
"I'll drop by there first."
"All right. Want Robin? He's over on Exeter with Batgirl."
"No, have them head out to the Quarter. Backup only."
"Got it, boss," she nodded before the image went black,
With a sigh, I turned off into an alley and headed back towards Tri-corner. After I turned onto 67th Avenue, I gunned the engine to make haste to police headquarters.
So much for dinner, Selina. Perhaps, later, after Pasqualle was in lock up along with his drug-running goons.
Perhaps then we could sit together and talk about what we would do with our lives. About how she would redecorate my bedroom and then how Alfred would have to stop picking out my clothes. How we could set up a nursery in the next room, maybe…
And how we'll live happily ever after.
Parking in a dark alleyway, I activated the security system before shooting a grappling hook up to the top of the ancient building. I landed soundlessly a familiar window ledge, silently opening it before entering the dark room. As expected, Gordon sat hunched over his desk, taking a moment of to himself before descending into hell.
With no time to waste, I cleared my throat, announcing my presence.
Gordon jumped, as usual, and cursed me under his breath. It was as he piled documents together on his desk that I noticed the smoldering ashtray near his left hand. He followed my gaze, "Oh, don't you even think of lecturing me. I am stressed to the gills, nicotine's my only prayer." He smiled as he stood and leaned against his desk, "Nicotine and you that is."
Deciding to move on to business, I asked hoarsely, "How many men?"
He sighed and removed his glasses, "Thirteen, give or take. Surveillance counted four cars that pulled into the rear-parking garage, but the tinted windows didn't give them a chance to count heads. But we have the troops armed and ready."
"Shoot to kill?"
"With him, we have no other choice."
Henri Pasqualle had been plaguing the eastern seaboard with imported European drugs for more than a decade under a number of aliases. He had recently made his way into the Gotham underbelly and we had been doing our best to welcome him with open arms and shackles.
Gordon growled, "God knows how many eighteen-year-olds are going to get it tonight. Too many. Always too many." He stood abruptly and walked over to the coat rack near the door. Upon donning his holster and trench coat, he continued, "I'll see you there."
As I paused at the window, I spoke quietly, "Careful, Jim."
And before I could leave, he said, "You, too, friend."
Our affiliation had being a long and rocky one. So much had come between us, from the law, broken promises as well as his family and mine. Although we had spent the last few years in an amiable alliance, I would always be haunted by the anger I had seen in his eyes from the night Two-Face had nearly beaten Dick to death. The fear in his eyes as he had accused me of endangering his life and how he would come after me if the boy had died.
I had told him to trust me.
And he had.
The fifteen-minute ride to the other side of town took eight in the Mobile, courtesy running seven red lights. Once I had found a concealed parking spot, I quickly spotted Batgirl and Robin perched on the roof the building facing the barricaded restaurant. With their binoculars out, they were fast to spot me as well. I nodded at them and they signaled that everything was set.
I looked up at the neon sign, with pink roman script, "La Belle Fleur" glowing in the dark. The building itself was a three-story brick and glass creation that had once been a hot spot for Gotham's elite. With my night lenses, I could only spot a few lookouts, armed with Uzis.
One false move.
That's all it took.
Pasqualle's gun-bearing men had apparently grown tired of watching the police assemble outside and had taken the offense, opening fire at will. My only other encounter with Pasqualle's army had been a week earlier, composed mainly of ex-cons and tween boys with wild eyes and thin faces.
They tried desperately to empty their rounds into the officers, although I only heard reports of three wounded over the scanners. After a fifteen minutes of flying bullet, I decided not to bear witness to any more senseless bloodshed. Without making contact with Gordon, I moved in close to the rear of the building, strategically throwing in my own brand of tear gas capsules. Thick hazy smoke seeped from the windows and soon, grown men poured out of the exits screaming in pain, bent at the waist with crippling nausea.
Crime did not pay.
"We'll cover you," Robin's voice found my ear. I turned to see him standing tall, a determined look on his face. Batgirl stood next to him, her head high and fists clenched.
Tim and Cassandra. Dick and Barbara…
"No. Stay here. Help maintain the one's that have come out. They still need to be dealt with."
He nodded before they made their way around to the front, seemingly racing one another to get to a thug first..
As I finally breached the rear entrance, I donned my gas mask, event though I had developed an near perfect immunity to it and would not suffer its full effects. The ground floor of the restaurant was filled with scattered tables, chairs and pieces of broken window. Gordon had said there had been at least fifteen men that had arrived and fourteen had been spotted exiting the building.
Gordon had been two off.
I spotted Pasqualle ten yards away, holding a cloth to his face. Two other men were with him with the large bulk and defining presence of bodyguards. After watching them move around in the darkness for a moment, I leapt at the trio and brought my elbows down into the juncture of their necks and shoulders of the bigger men. Both fell instantly and found they could not move their arms.
IT took several, fast-paced blows to their head and necks but I was able to render them both unconscious. In that fraction of a minute, Pasqualle escaped my sight as he blindly maneuvered into the kitchen.
After throwing the two men out the front window, I went after him, seeing him clearly through Starlite lenses. He had Smith and Wesson in one hand and six-inch switchblade in the other. In the dark, they were useless tools, for sight was required to use them. But in my case, darkness was the most useful tool, a tool, acting as a means of offense and defense. I watched him as he walked about the dark room, softly calling out the names of his missing comrades as he kept bumping into counters and cold stovetops.
His breath grew heavier as he realized he was alone, the small goatee on his chin quivered as his lips began to tremble in fear.
Given that I had the time, I considered several options to bring him down, all of which would likely involve him being in at least two different casts for the next few months. I settled for disarming him with a swift kick to the elbow, followed by a series of jabs, crosses and elbow hits to the face, neck and chest and a final twist to his wrist. The end result was the gun falling to the floor and the knife flinging across the room as he
Screamed in pain.
After a hard blow to the base of the skull, he crumpled to the floor. I growled, dragged him by the foot to the front of the restaurant and threw him out the window where he landed on his bodyguards. At least they protected him from getting road rash. Taking a moment, I watched from the window as officers tackled them, began reading Miranda rights and securing them.
Robin and Batgirl had done their fair share of work, with the remaining thugs moaning and limping into holding vans. They had taken to standing beside Gordon and Bullock, not thirty feet away. After offering a curt nod, I returned my focus to Pasqualle, horrified to see that he had not only regained consciousness but that he had staggered to his feet, nose dripping blood over an eerie smile.
He had managed to stab one of the officers in the face with a shard of broken glass, giving him just enough time to rip the gun from the tactical unit member's hands. Time slowed as he extended his arms and aimed for the Commissioner. Although there were already officers tackling Pasqualle, I knew he would be able to get enough shots off to get the job done.
I leapt from the window and landed mere feet in front of the wide-eyed Pasqualle.
Three shots fired in rapid succession and I felt each one slam into my body armor. Time continued to crawl as I fell to the ground, my eyes catching on a green glove as it reached out for me. Odd, the sirens had faded, the shouts, the gunfire… nothing.
Faces appeared around me suddenly. Robin, Bullock, Jim…
Gordon's hand wrapped around mine and somehow I managed to nod. It was starting to throb, but at least the Kevlar held. I'm sure it would have been bad had the bullets gone through.
I would be bruised and sore, no doubt. Selina would come up to the Manor later, worried but hiding it with a smile and a tease. We would still have a good talk about our future, maybe in the morning, though, I thought as a bitter taste rose in the back of my throat.
Faces began to blur to darkness. Didn't feel like blacking out, felt like I was floating.
Sleep, that was what I needed. I would rest up for a day, then I would be ready for Saturday, even if it was just dinner, no major breakthroughs in either of our lives.
As I closed my eyes, I pictured Selina teasing me. I imagined she was with me now, her voice was light with affection, "Way to go, Bull's eye."
"Funny, Flea Bag," I would tell her.
She would take me home, so I could sleep and get better for dinner.
And then maybe I would settle down a bit.
I hoped she wouldn't get mad at me. Wanted her to be happy.
Maybe I would give her the ring.
Hoped Alfred wouldn't see it.
Wanted to be a surprise.
My eyes closed once more to see Selina's smiling face, her voice fading.
And then nothing.