Chapter 30: A Proper Ending
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I flew over Wayne Manor just after sunset. I thought of the last time I had done so. It seemed like an eternity ago; it had been exactly four weeks. Two of the Sundays we had tried – and failed – to have dinner together. The third Sunday we had eaten together, but not here. The last Sunday we had not been speaking to each other. I did not have much hope for tonight, either.
I landed on the front drive and walked up the steps to the door. As before, the door opened before I had a chance to knock, but this time Alfred looked grave. He ushered me in and closed the door.
"How is he, Alfred?"
"Physically, Miss Diana, he is well. Master Bruce has always healed quickly, a decided virtue in his line of work. This time, he has excelled himself. Mentally, however," Alfred paused and then shrugged. "He has been down there in the Cave for three days... and nights. While I would normally applaud his decision not to play the vigilante until his wounds have healed, he refuses to talk and barely touches the meals I bring him. If he sleeps at all, I haven't observed it. When I reminded him that Miss Cassandra is presently bed-ridden; that Master Tim has been grounded by his father once more; and that Master Dick is fully occupied in making up for lost time in Bludhaven, he said, 'Let Huntress handle it.' Then he refused to say another word."
I gaped at him. "But he doesn't trust Huntress."
"No," replied Alfred dryly, "he doesn't. I have remonstrated with him, but he refuses even to look at me. Master Dick stopped by yesterday. He left after fifteen minutes, with much slamming of doors and grinding of gears. Miss Barbara came by this morning, at my urging. She stayed a little longer, but with no greater success. Master Tim has called several times. I believe he is secretly relieved that Master Bruce will not speak to him; he anticipated a dressing down for allowing Luthor to sneak up on him. I am at my wit's end, which is why I was so bold as to call you."
We started up the stairs. "Of course you should have called me; but I don't understand. Can he be working on a case?"
"He has disabled the security monitors in the Cave, so I cannot say what, if anything, he is doing. He is always at the computer when I go down there, but he immediately shuts down what he is working on when he becomes aware of my presence. However, on one occasion, he had the large monitor screen filled with a photograph of you, Miss Diana. He erased it, of course, as soon as he saw me. He appeared embarrassed."
I stopped and stared at Alfred. After a moment, he resumed climbing the stairs and I joined him.
Alfred continued, "I have never before observed him to work on a case while in civilian garb. It may simply be that it is too uncomfortable to pull his uniform on over his bandages; however, Master Bruce has never allowed such concerns to affect his behavior in the past."
"His hands were badly burned."
"Of course. Luthor's armor must have been scalding."
"While I, in general, consider the death penalty barbaric, I hope they kill that snake."
I shrugged. "All the people who could directly implicate him are standing mute. I suspect they are still more afraid of Luthor than of being convicted. That may change, once the Justice department is through with them. Whether his boasting before Lois, Lana and the others is admissible evidence remains to be seen; Luthor's attorneys, of course, are hotly contesting it. It takes two eyewitnesses to an act of war committed against the United States to convict for treason, so they may have to settle for a lesser charge. In any case, there is no doubt that the Senate will remove him from office."
"Hmph. I fear that dastard may be at the root of Master Bruce's behavior."
I turned and looked inquiringly at him.
"Master Bruce's words when he returned home, three days ago – almost the only words he has spoken to me – were that he had failed; that Luthor had seen right through his plan; that it was his fault so many fine heroes – Miss Cassandra and Miss Gypsy, in particular – were so badly injured; and that, for all the good he had done, Luthor would now be dictator."
"But that's silly."
"Silly, yes. I used a great many other words, but I believe you have found the most accurate. If I might suggest you tell him so? But I have been remiss. How are the other injured faring?"
"Empress and Jason Blood are both out of danger; Jay Garrick should make a full recovery; J'onn still has trouble controlling his form, and he mourns Scorch, but he is doing better. Mister Terrific... Doctor Mid-Nite says he could come out of his coma tomorrow... or never."
Alfred closed his eyes. "Every night, when he leaves, I pray that he will come home again." He opened his eyes. "And now I am concerned because he is not playing the hero. Puck was right: we mortals are fools."
"How are Batgirl and Gypsy doing?"
"Quite well, actually. I must admit I was surprised when Master Bruce insisted that Miss Gypsy come here to recuperate, but it has worked out very well. She and Miss Cassandra keep each other company. I doubt I could have kept Miss Cassandra abed this long, were it not for Miss Gypsy."
"What do they do?"
"Play poker, mostly. I fancy I have quite the poker face, in general, but it took only one game to make me admit I was out of my league. Between a lady who reads minds and one who reads bodies, I would quickly have been shorn of my meager savings. Although, I admit, they do not actually play for money... or anything else that I can determine. It is really quite a sight: they hardly glance at their cards and spend most of their time staring at each other. Then, more often than not, one folds and they deal out another hand."
"It sounds like Gypsy is honing her new ability."
"You know, there is still a furor in Washington over the disappearance of Batgirl's 'body'. Senator Wilkinson is quite incensed over the matter."
Alfred sniffed something about incompetents who don't bother to check for a pulse. "Although, if she had not been wearing body armor under her clothes, I shudder to think of what would have happened."
I nodded at that. We had reached the study and now paused in front of the Grandfather clock that hid the entrance to the Batcave. I grimaced. "I don't know if I can help, but I do have some news that might shake him up a bit. It's the reason I couldn't come sooner: I had to consult with the healers on Themyscira."
"I doubt Bruce will think so."
"Some intimate matter involving Master Bruce and yourself?"
"You could say that."
"Then I suspect Master Bruce may come around quicker than you expect; and that your news will be joyfully received in other quarters."
I turned to look at Alfred in puzzlement and found him positively beaming. Enlightenment dawned. I blushed. "No, no, nothing like that!"
Then I laughed. "That would be something, wouldn't it? No, my news is nothing so dramatic. I'm sorry if my reticence misled you, but I feel I should tell Bruce first."
"Ah, then I will be in the kitchen, preparing dinner." Alfred bowed and turned away.
I stared at the Grandfather clock. I did not look forward to the scene I anticipated, but delay would change nothing. I stepped forward and carefully moved the hands to the correct time. The clock swung out of the way, revealing a doorway. I stepped through and into the Batcave. The Grandfather clock swung closed behind me.
It seemed gloomier and felt colder than usual. Probably just my imagination. Quietly, I tiptoed down the stairs. I felt guilty trying to sneak up on Bruce so I could see what he was doing, but I needed to understand what was going on.
I rounded a corner and saw Bruce, in a blue sweat suit, sitting in front of the giant computer screen.
"... worry. I have constructed several cover stories that you can use to explain the money. These are contained in the file 'Tim's trust fund'." Bruce paused, then continued. "How you use the money is entirely up to you, but I strongly urge you to consider taking a few years off and going to college. There is a whole world distinct from crime fighting out there and many other ways to do good. Don't wait until it's too late to discover that. End file, 'To Tim'."
He rested his head in his hands for a moment, and then sat back up straight. "Open file, 'To Diana'. Diana ...."
He paused and I quickly strode down the stairs, my footsteps echoing through the Cave. I could not eavesdrop on this.
Bruce turned and glanced up the stairs. His face brightened momentarily at the sight of me, then almost immediately shut down. He turned away.
"That's all right, go right ahead," I told him breezily.
"It's private. Go away."
"I can't do that, Bruce; we need to talk." I giggled. "Alfred thought I was pregnant."
"When I went back for you, you weren't there; just a soldier giving CPR to Luthor. I didn't need the soldier to tell me who had rescued Luthor, or that you were long gone. But I had hoped to hear from you; I thought you had something you wanted to say to me, something you started to tell me on Themyscira, before Luthor interrupted us."
Still nothing. I would have to take this bull by the horns.
"I overheard a little of what you were dictating for Tim. It sounded like a last will and testament."
He turned back to me and the set expression on his face told me the answer. My throat closed up; it was hard to force out the words. "How... how long?"
"There hasn't been any swelling of the lung tissues, so it will probably be from cumulative scarring and fibrosis. That means I have a month, more or less. It will get harder and harder to breathe, until I can't anymore."
I thought about that. "It was Luthor, wasn't it?"
He laughed harshly. "Yes, Luthor. He would have died in there, so I went in and dragged him out. I breathed in enough plutonium dust that I fog up photographic film: I tried it when I got back to the Cave. I followed the recommended treatment: one gram of CaDTPA followed by a gram of ZnDTPA; but I knew it wouldn't do any good. So Luthor got his wish after all – he killed me. I wonder if he'll get as much satisfaction out of it as he anticipated."
"Is there nothing that could be done?"
"Lung transplant, followed by a bone marrow transplant, but there are long waiting lists for both. I wouldn't take it anyway: I would be taking them away from people who need them to live. I won't save myself at the cost of someone else's life."
"Unlike ordinary radiation sickness, it shouldn't affect the gonads. Do you want to try to make a baby?" he asked, only half-joking. "Alfred would be ecstatic."
"What about Luthor?"
"I don't want Luthor's baby."
"Given your biting sarcasm, I take it he wasn't affected?"
Bruce sighed. "He wasn't breathing at that point. I probably breathed a little of the plutonium into his lungs while doing CPR. It'll increase his risk of lung cancer; but given those smelly cigars he likes, I doubt it'll matter much. In any case, it usually takes decades to develop. I'm fairly sure he'll find some way to get himself killed before then."
I thought about what Bruce had said; then I thought about the news I was bringing. I laughed.
"You think this is funny?" he snarled.
"Given the news I have, yes, I do. However, before I tell you, I would like you to prove to me you are dying. Is there some test?"
He sighed again; then he got up, careful not to use his hands, which were heavily bandaged. I followed him to the Infirmary.
He turned to me, looking embarrassed. "It's a urine test."
I smiled. "I'll turn my back." I did and listened to him do what was necessary.
"You can turn around now."
I did and watched him use both hands to put the container into some sophisticated-looking device. "Computer, test for plutonium level in sample."
He turned back to me. To break the uncomfortable silence, I said, "I keep wondering what Gypsy showed the Thunderbolt to frighten him so."
"She showed him the future, if he continued to obey Luthor."
I almost asked, 'Did she tell you that?', but stopped in time. He had deduced it, of course. Instead, I said, "No wonder he paid attention to Barbara's arguments."
Bruce just grunted. After a moment, he asked, "How are the others doing?"
I told him what I had told Alfred.
"He's recovered, but he plans to retire from politics at the end of his term of office. I think that's a wise decision. There is talk, however, that Lana should run for office. She impressed a great many people in Washington and her testimony before Congress has gotten a lot of play in the media."
"She'd be a fool to go along with it. Our political system is not kind to the honest and idealistic."
"But she is just the sort of person this country needs in high office. Would you have her turn her back on the good she could do, just because the job is difficult?"
Bruce grunted again. He seemed to find something fascinating about his slippers. "And Luthor?"
"He has second-degree burns on the back of his legs and his posterior," I grinned, "from you dragging him over the hot surface of the tunnel Supergirl blasted, I imagine. Otherwise, he's fine. I'm not sure they will be able to convict him of treason."
"No, but they'll pin something on him. As a convicted felon, he won't be able to hold office. And his financial empire is finished."
"LexCorp stock price has tumbled, of course. My stockbroker has standing orders to buy whenever the price goes below 25. If I don't own a controlling interest now, I have enough stock to ensure he's never reappointed to the board. Talia has been going after his hidden accounts, as I expected. He's still far from penniless, but he'll never again wield the financial power he once did."
"Test complete," announced the computer. "No detectable plutonium in sample."
"What?" Bruce looked up. "That's impossible. Computer, retest the sample."
"Actually, it is not impossible. There is something I need to tell you. When I found you, Bruce, you were dying. You had lost too much blood. I gave you a blood transfusion."
I gently took his hands as we both remembered what J'onn had said: I would recommend you not give blood unless it is absolutely necessary. I am not sure what effect it would have on the recipient. Now we knew.
I started to unwrap the bandages. "My blood is magic, as am I. Along with my blood, you received a portion of that magic. I suspected it when you recovered so rapidly. You were all but dead, Bruce; you should never have been able to stand and walk under your own power so soon. As soon as I could get away, I visited the healers on Themyscira. They confirmed my guess.
"As you know, I heal very rapidly. You have temporarily" I emphasized that word, "gained a portion of my healing power. They told me that this should begin to fade very shortly. In a few weeks, it should be gone entirely."
I rubbed my fingers gently over his uncovered hands. The skin was pink but healed. "I know how you feel about magic. I'm sorry if this upsets you."
"Upsets me? UPSETS ME?" He reached out and pulled me to him. "I thought I was going to die when I had finally found a good reason for living."
There was only one possible response to that. However, we had hardly begun when the computer spoke, "Retest complete. No detectable plutonium in sample."
We looked at each other. Bruce murmured, "Perhaps we should take this upstairs."
I glanced down and then looked up into his eyes. "I would be happy to take this upstairs," I told him demurely. Then I picked him up in my arms and flew him up the stairs.
Later, lying in Bruce's arms, I said, "I think you should send those files you made to Tim and the others; or, better still, tell them in person. Don't wait until you're dead and dying."
"I'll... think about it."
"You know, we were in such a hurry that we forgot about protection. Perhaps Alfred will get his wish, after all."
I saw the horror in Bruce's eyes and giggled.
Outside the door, Alfred heard the giggle and smiled. He positioned the food trolley just to the side of the door. When Master Bruce and Miss Diana finished with their present activities, they would find dinner waiting for them. As for himself, he would spend a comfortable evening with The Bard, without having to worry about his charge, for a change. All in all, he thought, it was a very proper ending to a particularly nasty business.
Author's Notes: I got my description of the effects and treatment of plutonium inhalation off the web. Not being medically enabled, if I got anything wrong, I apologize. And, yes, plutonium levels are monitored with a urine test.
I did not anticipate, when I started this story, that it would take ten months for me to tell it. Partly it is Luthor's fault: he proved far harder to nail than I originally anticipated. But, mostly, it is mine. I apologize to you, my readers, and heartily thank you for hanging in there. I hope it was worth the wait. This will be my last story for the foreseeable future. I am going to try to write a novel. I figure the over 80,000 words I've written about Bruce and Diana makes a decent-sized novel, so why not go for it? While I may write an occasional short story as a break from novel writing, I won't be doing any longer stories until I have either completed the novel or given up on the idea. So wish me luck. Without Batman to do my planning for me, I'm going to need it.
Rick Peterson November, 2004