Rebecca slowly regained consciousness; blinking her eyes blearily, she tried to remember where she was as her eyes adjusted to the dark cave she'd woken up in. IT was no easy task however, for her head was pounding as though someone was continuously hammering at it.
She flinched when something moved in the darkness above, the small screeches and soft sound of flapping wings telling her what the creature had to be even though she couldn't see it.
"Not more bats." Rebecca whimpered, before she jumped as a gloved hand brushed against hers.
"They won't hurt you."
Rebecca's eyes snapped over to the man standing by her head, his dark eyes behind his mask full of relief and glittering with a hint of amusement as he stared down at her.
"It's not funny." Rebecca muttered as she glanced around the cave, now noticing the Batmobile parked in the middle while several large computers and other equipment she didn't even try to identify lined the edges of the cave.
"Where are we?" Rebecca asked, and Batman replied shortly in his disguised voice, "Somewhere safe."
Rebecca glanced at him, and he could see her hesitating – he could see it in her eyes that she was debating asking him. Bruce steeled himself, waiting with a hammering heart as the tension continued to spike with every passing second.
"Did you catch Crane?" Rebecca asked at last, instead, and Bruce deflated.
Though, he supposed he understood her hesitance; if he knew her (which he was sure he did) she was probably waiting to ask him as Bruce - when she could see his entire face and gather the truth from his expression.
"Gordon has Crane." Batman informed Rebecca slowly.
She nodded, murmuring absently, "Good. At least he didn't get away after I fell for his stupid trap."
Rebecca placed her head in her hand, leaning on her knee.
"I feel terrible enough without feeling responsible if he'd escaped because I missed the textbook cues. He was so obvious, looking back now - if I had been that stupid in the police academy, I would have failed for sure."
"It can happen to everyone." Bruce reassured, and Rebecca snorted, "Thank you. But it's no excuse for failing as badly as I did back there."
"Why do we fall?" Bruce returned, seeing an opening and taking it quickly before he could lose his nerve.
The reaction he got was instantaneous.
Rebecca's head snapped back towards him, her blue eyes wide with shock as she asked, "What?"
Bruce took a deep breath, before repeating, this time in his regular voice, "Why do we fall?"
Rebecca stared at him as she sat up slowly, keeping her eyes locked on his.
"So we can learn to pick ourselves up." She whispered, her voice carrying easily in the deathly silent cave.
Bruce nodded, lowering his eyes slightly as he found it awkward now to meet Rebecca's piercing gaze.
Rebecca stared at him, slowly letting it sink in. Bruce really was Batman. And he had come forward with the truth before she'd even needed to question him. He was showing a sign of his trust in her. He-
"Oh." Rebecca groaned, dropping her face into her hands.
"Becky?" Bruce asked, confused, and she accused, "Alfred told you I'd guessed your secret, didn't he?"
Bruce paused for a moment, startled by her sudden question, before looking sheepish even behind the mask as he admitted, "He did, yes."
"Nothing gets passed him." Rebecca muttered. "And it explains why you're coming clean now, after being a complete jerk the other day."
Rebecca sighed again.
"I mean, it makes sense, if you think about it from the perspective of an immature brat like you."
"Couldn't we just say I matured, now that I'm thirty?" Bruce inquired dryly, and Rebecca shot him an amused look.
"You'll never be mature, Bruce." She said fondly, reaching over to tug on his hand to pull him closer. "But I am glad you've decided to be honest with me."
"And I'm sorry for what I said the other day." Bruce apologized. "I just-"
"-Wanted me to be safe?" Rebecca asked flatly, and Bruce nodded.
"Yeah." He said sheepishly, bracing himself for a punch. He knew Rebecca, and he knew she would not be happy with the way he'd handled his concern for her. And an unhappy Rebecca could also often a violent one - and rumour was she hadn't been the best in the police academy for just her examination grades.
But the punch never came as Rebecca instead patted his cheek – over the cowl – as she said with a slight sigh, "You worry too much."
"Well, you worry too little about your own safety sometimes." Bruce commented, and Rebecca looked him up and down pointedly.
"I don't want to hear that from someone who goes up against powerful criminals single-handedly every other night." She noted. "You're not the only one who should stand up against them."
"I'm trained in physical combat, and wearing a Kevlar suit." Bruce countered, and Rebecca shot back, "And I'm trained as a police officer and armed, even if you don't like it. And, speaking of the suit, can you take the mask off?"
She gestured at it as she admitted, "It feels… kind of strange to be talking to you with it on. Especially since you apparently use that voice with the mask."
Bruce started, only realizing then that he'd accidentally slipped back into his gravelly Batman voice while arguing with Rebecca.
Bruce hesitated for only a moment before he removed the mask, unconsciously turning his neck and stretching it as he did to work the stiffness out. His brown hair swung into his face as it fell free of the cowl, and Rebecca reached up to push his hair back for him, staring up at him with those familiar bright blue eyes as she took in his face.
"What?" Bruce asked uncomfortably, very aware of the black paint around his eyes that probably made him look like a panda.
It was necessary to ensure full coverage of the skin around his eyes when he had the mask on, but he felt rather awkward with it on as Rebecca stared at him intently.
"Just taking it all in." Rebecca answered quietly as she let her hand move down from his hair to his face before dropping it back onto her lap. "I thought I'd lost my best friend for a while there – but, now I see he's still there."
"I really am sorry about what I said." Bruce said quietly. "I know I hurt you."
"Yeah, and I was going to punch you." Rebecca admitted as she looked up at him. "But, since you did save my life - twice - I've decided we can be even on that front."
"You didn't have qualms about hitting my face the other day." Bruce pointed out – apparently he was still a little sore on that, even though he knew he'd deserved it.
"You deserved that." Rebecca had no problem reminding him.
She then patted his face again as she added lightly, "And besides, wouldn't want to ruin Bruce Wayne's face for his birthday party."
Bruce chuckled, before he sighed. She'd reminded him that they didn't have much time.
"I have to get going – I need to kick my 'guests' out quickly." Bruce muttered, and Rachel frowned.
"Can you do that?" She asked, and he answered with a shrug, "Why can't I?"
"You're Bruce Wayne." She pointed out. "You have an image to uphold."
"The city is more important." Bruce answered, and Rebecca remembered what she had seen in Arkham.
"Crane was putting something in the city water supply." She murmured, and Bruce nodded.
"It's the fear hallucinogen, I'm sure of it. I just have to figure out how he's going to do whatever he's doing." Bruce admitted.
"I thought you said he was caught?" Rebecca frowned, and Bruce explained, "Crane was just a pawn; there's someone else. Someone worse."
Rebecca's eyes were steely, going into her police detective mode as she said, "And that also means Gordon's going to need me there right now."
Bruce nodded, though he wasn't exactly happy. But he also needed her to take something to Gordon, so as Rebecca moved to get off the table, he informed her, "I need you to take this to Gordon."
He showed her the extra two vials Fox had given him, and she took them along with the injection he offered carefully as he ordered, "One is for Gordon to inoculate himself, and the other is for mass production."
"What about you?" Rebecca asked, glancing up at him, and Bruce admitted, "I already took one – I was poisoned the other day."
"And that's why Alfred didn't let me see you this morning." Rebecca realized, and Bruce nodded.
He moved across the cave to get out of the rest of his suit as the time pressure slowly started to hit him, and Rebecca watched him with worried eyes – though she adverted her gaze when he removed his pants.
"You will be careful, won't you? When you come back out as Batman?" Rebecca asked as Bruce stripped off the Batman suit and started getting dressed in a smart black suit for his 'party'.
"I'll be as careful as a certain police detective in Gotham City will be." Bruce answered dryly as he quickly finished pulling on his suit pants.
"Touché." Rebecca admitted, looking over again when she heard him zip up his trousers. "But listen to this as a request from an old friend."
She wandered over to his side and said, just as he pulled on his shirt, "Be careful."
She looked at him worriedly as she stood in front of him, and Bruce smiled a little.
"For Becky Dawes?" He asked, and she nodded.
"Then always." Bruce promised, and Rebecca smiled widely.
Bruce answered it faintly, and Rebecca started buttoning up his shirt for him while he tackled the mission that was buttoning up his cuffs. Standing so close, she could smell the distinct scent of aftershave and pine, which was unusual but nice and even calming. Rebecca sighed to herself - Rachel was right. She'd been deluding herself when she said she no longer loved Bruce as more than a friend. But even knowing Bruce's secret didn't seem to bring him closer to her; in some ways, he felt even further away than he had before.
"I'll send Alfred down to drive you home first." Bruce went on, unaware of her thoughts as he looked down at Rebecca while she finished buttoning his top collar. "Rachel probably has your car there and you can take it to get to Gordon."
He nodded his thanks as Rebecca finished smoothing his collar, and she nodded back before she leant up and kissed Bruce's cheek.
"I never got to say - happy birthday, Bruce." She murmured, before leaning back.
"I guess I'll see you later, Batman."
Bruce cracked a smile at Rebecca's terrible attempt at levity. He hesitantly brushed his hand over Rebecca's cheek, running the back of his hand gently against her smooth skin. He seemed to be trying to decide whether to say something more; but in the end, he dropped his hand once more, turned, and left the Batcave.
Rebecca watched him go, feeling a small pang of disappointment as he left just like that. But she quickly shook the feeling off and placed a small, friendly smile on her face while waving at Bruce as he entered the lift back up into his mansion.
Bruce gave her a small smile back and though he didn't return her wave, his eyes never left hers as he disappeared up and out of the cave.
Bruce had just finished tucking his shirt into his pants when he arrived back inside the office with the piano inside the Manor.
He grimaced slightly when he saw Alfred waiting, the butler looking very unhappy; but Bruce tried to ignore the looks Alfred was giving him as he pulled his suspenders up onto his shoulders.
Alfred, however, was not going to be ignored, and the old butler began severely, "When you told me your grand plan for saving Gotham, the only thing that stopped me from calling the men in white coats was when you said that it wasn't about thrill seeking."
"It's not." Bruce replied shortly, and if he admitted a little defensively, as he pulled his bowtie around his neck.
"What would you call that, then?" Alfred snapped sternly, pointing at the TV screen in the corner of the room.
Bruce glanced over to see the evening news, showing the rampage Batman had created in the Batmobile as police cars chased him around downtown Gotham.
"Damn good television." Bruce quipped as he refocused on shrugging on his suit jacket.
Alfred – ever the good butler – helped him with his outfit, even as the British gentleman scolded angrily, "It's a miracle no-one was killed!"
"I didn't have time to observe the rules of the road, Alfred." Bruce shot back, and Alfred muttered, "You're getting lost inside this monster of yours."
"I'm using this 'monster' to help other people, just like my father did." Bruce countered as he started working on his bowtie.
But Alfred snapped sharply, "For Thomas Wayne, helping others wasn't about proving anything to anyone, including himself."
Bruce finally lost his own temper and he turned to look Alfred in the eye as he said heatedly, "It was Becky, Alfred. She was dying."
Alfred pursed his lips, and Bruce added in a softer, more defeated tone, "She's waiting downstairs – and she knows the truth. All of it. But I need you to take her home so no-one gets suspicious of her leaving here."
With that, Bruce turned to start heading downstairs; when Alfred spoke up again warningly, "Well, we both care for Miss Dawes, sir, but what you're doing has to be beyond that."
Bruce turned back to Alfred sharply as he snapped, "You wanted me to include her from the beginning."
"Because you love her, sir." Alfred countered sternly. "And I believe she will be good for you. But when you are 'the Batman', it can't be personal – otherwise you're just a vigilante."
Bruce's jaw clenched, but he kept his tone even as he asked abruptly, "Is Fox still here?"
"Yes, sir." Alfred confirmed, and Bruce said shortly, "We need to send these people away, now."
"Those are Bruce Wayne's guests out there, sir." Alfred called after him sharply as Bruce made to go again. "You have a name to maintain."
"I don't care about my name." Bruce snapped, turning back to face Alfred angrily, but the old butler was just as angry as he retorted, "It's not just your name, sir. It's your father's name."
Bruce stopped dead at that, while Alfred continued with suspiciously bright eyes, "And it's all that's left of him."
He paused, taking a shaky breath, before he added quietly, pleadingly-
"Don't destroy it."
The old butler turned, his shoulders heavy as he started down towards the Batcave to fetch Rebecca while Bruce stared after him for a moment.
Alfred's words had hit him right where it hurt, where it would wedge itself like a knife and continue to twist if Bruce didn't heed his words. But at the same time, there was the city - what if something happened while Bruce was playing the part he was required to play outside? What if Rebecca was hurt or worse because Bruce was drinking champagne while talking about meaningless things with the so-called rich and powerful?
Bruce sighed. He knew what he had to do; he had known the burdens he would have to shoulder when he'd chosen his path.
With a heavy heart, Bruce turned and made his own way downstairs towards his guests, wishing he could at least have Rebecca at his side to help him get through what was sure to be a painful night.