Title: Do Unto Others: Man or Monster
Author: DC Luder
Summary: Gotham City's protectors must defend it against a new predator.
Author's Note: All recognizable characters belong to DC Comics, not DC Luder.
A/N 2: This chapter has been modified from its original version.
The Clocktower, July 1st, 9:10 p.m.
"Where is everyone?" I asked, announcing my presence in her secure room.
Without flinching, Barbara looked away from a surprisingly blank screen and over her shoulder at me, "Tim and Cass are juggling patrols and touring all of the high target areas, trying to keep an eye out for him. Issuing a suspect has dropped activity in the clubs considerably, but they said there are still plenty for the picking."
Her gaze returned to her screen, bringing up the scanned journals I had uploaded into the crays, "I think you know where he is… or at least where he is heading."
Not wanting to press further on the subject, I continued, "He's not in the city. From what I've read, he's never liked it here, never felt safe. No doubt he had fled to Rockledge to get away from it all, not knowing that there was no escape."
Barbara nodded, "I was thinking the same thing. With the task force adamant that he's still around, this is exactly where they're looking for him. They're not seeing the big picture."
After a moment, she tapped a control on the keyboard and the main display lit up with a map of Gotham City. In white, markers indicated where the victims had been found over the summer. Red showed the streets that Robin and Batgirl had been that night and yellow showed where they had yet to check. Even though it was just after nine, the digital fire looked to be evenly placed throughout the city's most populated areas.
There was a pause before Barbara asked, "I know you'll probably just yell at me and walk out for asking but… what happened with Selina? She booked a flight for Rome. For one."
"I have no say in what she does or where she goes."
"Bruce," Barbara looked up at me, her green eyes vibrant despite her exhaustion, "I know it's hard, but saying 'I'm sorry' doesn't hurt that bad."
Ignoring her comment, I asked, "Anything from forensics?"
She sighed before turning back to her workstation, "Nothing exciting. They see the information from his childhood journals as a prime foundation for a sexual predator, along with aggression over his mother's violent death…"
"That's not why he's doing this."
"It has to do with the step-mother. She plays a role in all of this."
Barbara sighed before admitting, "Still can't believe Caffery took over that house, announced his name… Placido will never come back now. And it'll be searching for a needle in a haystack, no, a hay field to find him.
I nodded slightly. When criminals ran, they did so as fast and as far as possible to the safest possible location. Although not the average, Placido was still a criminal, a man on the run. And he definitely needed a safe place to hide. With such a small window of time since his last appearance and seemingly unyielding ties to the area, it was a safe bet that he had yet to flee entirely.
My mind flashed back on Selina, nearly running down the stairs that morning, running away from me because our relationship was no longer safe.
I then thought of myself, much younger, bleeding to death following my first act of crime fighting.
There was only one place that felt safe when you were threatened…
"Robin checking in," I heard a voice come over the speakers.
Barbara smiled and activated her mic, "How's the night life?"
"Lack there of, you must mean. There wasn't even a line to get into Romano's and that place usually has a waiting list well into next week. The city is practically dead."
"Good to hear," she replied. As she looked back to me, she covered her mic, "What do you want them to do now?"
I took a long breath before saying, "Resume regular patrols."
"Will you be joining them?"
I shook my head, "I'm going after Placido."
She quickly delivered the message to my young protégés and then proceeded to cut the feed, "You know where he is?" After ignoring her question, she followed me as I made my way to the window, "Bruce, wait, how do you know where he is?"
Once the window was opened, I paused before moving through it, "He's gone to where it's safe."
"And where would that be?" she looked at me, frustration drawing her eyebrows up.
"There's no way he's getting back in."
I shook my head, "That's not the place he calls home Barbara. It's the same place I call home, the place where he and his parents lived together."
Before she could protest, I stepped out into the darkness and disappeared.
Residence of the Barlows, July 1st, 9:26 p.m.
He had lied.
It hadn't been the first time he had used the leather bound police badge to get his way around matters, and it wouldn't be the last. His uncle had given it to him shortly after he had retired, telling him that it would make a great addition for when he played cops and robbers with his friends. If he had any friends, it surely would have.
The badge had acted as Pete's ID for a quick, no questions asked rental of a four-door sedan the color of a dolphin, billed of course to the Gotham City Police Department. He had been directed by the man behind the registration counter to the left rear of the parking lot where the car waited for him. The very second he sat in the driver's seat, he was impressed by the cleanliness of it. It started effortlessly and guided with superior ease, unlike his former mode of transportation, which required a bit of skill.
He didn't have to worry about that anymore.
It had been two years since he had last taken an impulsive drive to the house he had spent the first six years of his life in. It was his last resort to putting his life back into balance. It had been just before Christmas and the house had looked as magnificent as ever with fresh snow fall decorating the shrubs and trees in the front yard and blanketing the house in white. To Pete's surprise, it had been up for sale and if he had the funding, he surely would have bought it.
He had been tempted in the time that had lapsed to visit the old house but had somehow managed to resist it. Although returning to his childhood home offered him comfort, it also brought back hundreds of painful memories. It was double-edge sword, one he was wary of handling especially in the state he was in.
That as until he had watched the news earlier that day.
His mother had been right. They had finally found him. They were going to lock him away and prevent him from carrying out his promise. There had even been a price put on his head, a sum many would be unable to resist, including the kid at the motel's reception.
He had to leave.
He had no where to go.
No… he had some place…
After securing the rental car, thankful that the attendant had yet to see his wanted face on the television, Pete had obeyed every traffic law imaginable, doing his best not to draw attention. There had been no road blocks when he made his way out of the crowded residential borough and out towards the less populated suburbs. He had found himself taking the same route he had days earlier out towards Rockledge.
Pete had even passed by the muddy ditch where he had taken the last one, although it had been all cleaned up and lacked any sign of the accident or his actions. While driving, he had slowed his speed slightly as a part of him longed to stop all together. He had physically shook himself in order to ignore the temptation, knowing it wouldn't definitely arouse suspicion. He certainly had been unable to afford that…
As the digital readout on the car's dash read noon, Pete had turned onto the road he had learned how to ride his bike on. He had recognized the large tree he used to stand under waiting for the bus at the end of the block, one he had climbed many times to evade bullies. He had memorized the order of branches in order to get up the tree as fast as possible, learning from failure and having the daylights kicked out of him. The times he had been able to make it to safety, they had resulted to shouting out a rainbow of foul words and names. Queer. Peepee. Freak.
His life had taken a considerable change since then. He had learned to ignore the taunts of others and defend himself if necessary. He had learned to tackle his problems head on.
Save for his current predicament…
"Welcome home, Peter," his mother's voice had said softly into his ear.
Pete had looked up, smiling as he recognized the slate blue paneled house, the worn shingles and paved driveway of his childhood home. His smile had then faded when he noticed that not everything was the same. The flowerbeds he had meticulously tended as a young child had been replaced with small hedges and Japanese Yew. As he scanned the lawn, he did not see a for sale sign, but in instead, a mailbox with the name Barlow printed on the side.
"Someone's inside the house, Peter. Trespassers. Vandals. Strangers."
"No… they… it's a new family… they bought it," Peter had muttered, driving by the house without looking back.
"Peter, you have to do something…"
He had toured the block once more, driving by the house a second time. To his surprise, Pete had passed by just as the front door had opened, a small boy and a blond-haired woman making their way into the brilliant July sun. He was quick to realize that they were playing tag, their laughter carrying all of the way from the yard to his rolled down window. Pete had swallowed hard before driving off, leaving the neighborhood as quickly as possible.
"Remember, Peter, remember what it was like?"
He had shook his head, trying to ignore her as he guided the rental car back onto a county highway, anything to take him far away. He had driven nearly four hours down I-84 before pulling over at a rest stop to fill up and use the rest room. After he had washed his hands, Pete had splashed water on his face. Looking up and into the grimy mirror, Pete's mind had flashed an image of the Whore grinning victoriously at him instead of his own reflection.
He had made a promise to his mother…
He had once more become that little boy, hiding in the tree…
He had to go back.
By the time he returned to his former home, it was after nine, dusk giving way to humid night air. As Pete made his approach to the house, he flicked off the headlights and went into neutral. He parked out on the curb and without hesitation, Pete stepped out of the vehicle and proceeded to walk up the drive. Unlike earlier, there was a large, glossy SUV parked outside of open garage door. Of the windows he could see on the front of the house, two emitted lights. One was the kitchen and the other was the master bedroom on the other end of the house.
The room his mother had killed herself in.
"Peter… what are they doing in our home?"
He walked up next to the house and looked up at the kitchen window just as a shadow passed by inside. For the first time in far too long, he felt nervous, his stomaching tightening as his pulse quickened. He tried to remind himself that there was no need to be afraid, that if anyone should be, it was the strangers in his home.
Carefully, he climbed the cement steps up to the mudroom door, if which lead directly into the kitchen. Taking a breath, he touched the doorknob, turned his wrist and let loose a half-smile as the knob gave and the door opened. His parents had never locked the doors when they had lived there, such a safe neighborhood.
Upon entering the house, the first sensation that hit him was the odor of popcorn followed shortly by the homey atmosphere he had missed out on his entire life. The faint aroma left after dinner, the hint of cleaning spray and the soft sounds of a quiet family night at home. Thankful, the dryer and washer was running, covering the sounds of his footfalls as he walked further into his house.
Unlike the outside, the interior had changed dramatically. Wallpaper he had memorized had given way to white walls and wood paneling. The scuffed linoleum floors had been replaced with blue tiles and the light fixtures were far more decorative than necessary. Not only were they living in his home, but they had changed it, ruining it forever.
Standing in the open archway of the kitchen, Pete looked into the room to see a tall, sandy haired man pouring the contents of a popcorn bag into a glass bowl. Despite the noise as popped kernels chiming on glass, Pete heard his mother clearly, "He doesn't belong here."
The man crumbled the bag and threw it away underneath the sink, calling out to the living room down the hall, "Do we need more than one bag, hon?"
Although she had replied that one would be fine, he never had a chance to hear it. Having not been prepared to deal with the intruders, Pete had to make do. A quick glance to the kitchen sink offered a sight of a full dish rack, including a large cutting knife in one of its slots. In the police academy, his advising officer had offered him only one useful piece of advice: in the midst of an impossible situation, a resolution will reveal itself if you look for it.
Palming the knife, Pete crossed the floor of the kitchen and approached the stranger. The sole of his shoe squeaked softly on the floor just as he stopped, mere inches from his target. It was just loud enough for the man to turn around and stare directly at Pete, "Who the-."
In one quick move, Pete slashed the knife at the man, stepping back as red sprayed from his neck. The man flailed backwards, his hands uselessly pressing against the gushing wound before falling back against the counter. Pete watched as the back of his head caught the popcorn bowl and pushed it onto the floor. It shattered on impact, spewing glass shards and popcorn across the floor's too smooth surface.
"Bring him to me, Peter"
Pete looked towards the hall, where his mother's voice seemed to be coming from. Putting the knife between his teeth, Pete could taste iron-sweet blood and cool steel. The man was nearly the same size as Pete but was easy to drag away, especially when he stopped flailing about. Reaching the master bedroom at the end of the hall, Pete had to pass not only his old room, but the bathroom and the small office his father had kept as well. To keep back the sudden flood of memories, he focused on his task at hand.
He had to do as his mother told him.
Just as he reached the open bedroom door, Pete heard the scream "Henry!"
Female, shrill and frightened. His mother had never screamed, she had cried often but had never made such an awful sound.
Pete dropped the limp man and pressed himself flush against the inside wall of the bedroom, his eyes towards the door. He listened carefully as staggering footsteps echoed down the hall as she followed the trail he had left on the beige carpet. Then a soft moan before another cry, "HENRY!"
The second she passed through the bedroom door, Pete reached out and grabbed her, his eyes dark and unwavering. She tried to scream but he backhanded her and she simply gasped instead. The knife still clamped between his incisors, he shoved her down on the bed, his glare settling on her face. Her one cheek was bright red and her eyes had already begun to shed tears of fear and pain. Even as he punched her temple, he couldn't help but flash back to the day his father had slapped his mother, and how she had cried in bed for so long that night…
"No!" she screamed, her hands coming up to claw his face. She gouged a chunk of flesh from his cheek and tried to aim at his eyes. To retaliate, he hit her again, hard in the face, before chopping at her throat. After two more similar blows, her eyes rolled back and her breathing became labored and loud.
Pete seemed to work on automatic at that point, crouching above her with his legs to either side of his. The blood in his veins was hot and quick, just like so many times before. As he looked down at the bleeding face before him, it wasn't difficult to visualize the Whore, that he had finally gotten to her and that he was then able to rid the world of her once and for all.
He slowly removed the blade from his mouth and wiped it on his shirtsleeve, eyeing his reflection carefully. A blurry image reflected as well, something by the door.
Pete turned and saw a small boy, clad in green pajamas, a milk moustache gracing his upper lip. The child eyed the bloody remains of his father and then slowly looked up to Pete as he knelt above the Whore.
No, it was his mother, Pete realized when he noticed the boy's lower lip quivering.
It was his Mother.
It was him…
Residence of the Barlows, July 1st, 9:29 p.m.
Traveling twenty miles over the speed limit, I navigated the back roads towards Rockledge with a bad feeling in my gut. I had already checked to see that the former Placido residence was in fact the current Barlow household. He had butchered a woman and left her for dead in the woods after a fender bender, what would he do if he went to his childhood home and found a new family there?
Thinking about it made me gun the accelerator.
As I pulled up to the quiet house, I spotted a rental car parked out front.
I expected the worst, not even daring to hope for the best.
Stepping out of the 'Mobile, I programmed it to park itself a few blocks down the road, not wanting or needing to alert anyone of my arrival. Using the darkness of the drive, I walked quickly up along the outside of the house and towards a side door which was regrettably unlocked with no signs of forced entry.
Had Placido gained entrance on false pretense of amiability or had the residents trusted the safety of their neighborhood?
Without hesitation, I made my way into the kitchen, first noticing the spray of arterial blood before scattered pieces of popcorn and broken glass. A quick glance at the blood pattern said the victim had been assaulted front on, the arc of blood on the floor covering the floor and ceiling as opposed to the counter and cupboards. With dread beginning to creep into my veins, I touched a splatter of blood with a gloved finger, surprised when it was still wet.
There was a gory path leading out of the kitchen and down a narrow tan hall. Holding my breath, I heard no sign of life or even the struggle for life. Glancing around the corner, I spotted a sliver of light at the end, escaping from a room. I moved soundlessly towards the light, doing my best to divert my eyes from the family portraits that were on the walls, full of smiling, carefree faces.
Ten feet short of the end of the corridor, I saw a pair of limp legs in dark flannel pants laying motionless in a saturated pool of blood. The light had been escaping from an open bedroom door but I was unable to look in without moving any closer. Knowing it was futile, I squatted beside the foot of the leg, searched for a digital pulse.
My tardiness had resulted in another casualty.
After standing upright against the wall, I eased closer to the door and listened, hearing ragged breaths from at least two individuals. Preparing for anything, I carefully peered inside, instantly seeing the still form of a blond-haired woman on the bed. In the family portraits, she had been bright and cheerful but in real life she appeared just as lifeless as her husband, laying awkwardly on the bedspread.
A good portion of the room was hidden from my vantage point and I had to move closer to search for the other individual in the room. I had expected Placido to be long gone and tried to prepare myself to find the filleted body of the young boy in the corner of the room. What I hadn't expected was to see the killer that had plagued Gotham City for months kneeling before a pajama clad child, both of them crying silently.
Keeping out of sight, I inched back and out of sight, listening as Placido apologized, "I'm sorry. I was wrong… I shouldn't have…"
From the brief glimpse I had made, the boy seemed to be all right, obviously in shock but not blatantly injured. Although physical wounds were nothing compared to the pain of witnessing the deaths of parents.
I heard a soft gasp, placing it as belonging to the mother. Looking in again, I nearly sighed with relief when the woman's arm twitched slightly, then shivered before going still. Alive. But for how long?
With Placido distracted, I looked him over, noticing the knife in his left hand hanging loosely from his fingertips. I could have thrown a bolo, or even charged in, but was unsure if I could take him down before he got to the boy. A risk I was unwilling to take. I watched on as Placido jerked his head to the right, "But you told me… I can't hurt him… He's innocent… He's just like me…"
Talking to himself. Schizophrenics were generally nonviolent, but when they were, they were extremely so. Had the voices in his diseased mind controlled him all this time? But when charged with the task of taking the life of a child he was standing his ground?
Taking a risk, I called out softly, "Peter."
"Peter, listen to me."
"Dad? How can it be…."
"Come out here, talk to me."
Placido had paused before asking, "Is she out there?"
She. The Whore.
"No, your step-mother is long gone," I improvised.
"Is she coming back?" he responded, his footsteps slowly approaching the doorway.
"No, Pete… she's gone for good." Thinking of the hatred he had expressed for the woman in his journals, I added, "I should have never brought her into our lives… I'm sorry, Pete."
He finally stepped into sight, filling the doorway with his form, his grip on the knife tightening, "Dad?"
Over six feet, built with strong muscle, but no bulk to slow him down. It was no wonder he had never had a problem overpowering his victims. Looks to lure them in, strength to finish them off. Before he could spot me in the darkness of the hall, I lunged forward, striking his knife bearing hand hard as to stun the nerves in his wrist. He cried out, the features of his face changing in an instant from confusion to outrage.
Dealing another blow to his arm, I growled when he refused to drop the knife, ducking when he slashed out at my face, screaming in anger, "Where is my father?"
I took a second to glance behind me when another cry sounded, belonging to the little boy as he scrambled to climb onto the bed with his unconscious mother. I did my best to guide Placido back into the hall, still chopping away at his arm. I felt bones crunch and yet still he had a steel grip on the knife.
With a final blow, he dropped it and fell to the carpet briefly before scrambling to his feet, "Where is he?"
Placido charged at my midsection and I sidestepped him, allowing him to run into the wall so hard that his head left a dome shaped indent. When he turned to face me, his brow bloodied, he let out a low growl of frustration and came at me again. I moved out of the way just in time and tripped him before landing a blow to the back of his head with the heel of my hand. He tumbled shoulder first onto the floor and collided with a small end table.
The lamp crashed and the illumination of the room went with it. I activated my night lenses and watched as Placido quickly made his way to his feet. I took the spare moment to glance at the bed and noticed the boy had vanished. I looked towards the corner and spotted him, huddled in the fetal position and crying softly.
Sooner than I suspected, Placido came back at me, "You can't stop me."
"Stop you from what?" I growled back, "Killing innocent people?"
"Innocent?" he dragged air in hungrily, scanning the room as his eyes adjusted to the dark, "How were they innocent? The things they were going to do, the lives they were going to ruin… I couldn't let them… I couldn't…" He had given up on the bull and matador routine and opted to run at me, swinging blindly at my face, "You can't stop me!"
"I can," I blocked two consecutive hits and then struck out myself, hitting him square in the jaw, "And I will."
"Monster," he muttered as he rose to his feet once more, seemingly undeterred, "Where is he? Where is my father?"
"Your father is dead. Your mother is dead. Just like that man laying in the hall. Just like all of the girls you-."
I didn't have time to finish as he swung out again, my lenses picking up the glimmer as he slashed out with a piece of broken lamp. I dodged the assault easily by stepping back and then to the side. I thought the dark would have been my advantage, but as I felt a hot pain in my arm as Placido hacked blindly, I realized my error. Desperation was a fact that I couldn't ignore. I blocked the next two swipes and then chopped his swollen wrist. The shiv fell from his hand and I used the distraction to hit him in the back of the head once more.
Falling down again, he sobbed, "You can't stop me… I have to… I promised her."
Having gained the upper hand, I asked, "Promised who?"
His eyes closed and I watched him breathe unsteadily for a moment before turning to the bed, taking the time to assess the woman's vitals. I then stepped over Placido's limp form, binding his wrists before going to check on the boy. He was rocking slowly, arms pulled tight around his bent legs. When I crouched in front of him, I told him he was all right and that help was on the way. I feared to touch him, for in the dark, it would most likely frighten him. The boy looked up with glassy eyes and searched for my face in the dark.
I stood and reached for the pull string on the light in the closet but just as my fingers touched it, I heard the knife hit flesh before feeling it in my lower back. Stumbling forward, I caught myself on the wall so not to fall on the boy as Placido drove the knife in further. Somewhere in my mind, I tried to figure out how he had managed to get his hands over his long legs and back in front of him. A point made mute as he began twisting the blade.
Despite the white hot flare in my back, I swung my elbow back, connecting it with his temple in rapid fire succession. He fell back, catching himself on the edge of the bed before standing upright once more. I had been stabbed dozens of times, from lucky shots by thugs and finely tuned killers such as Victor Zsasz. Regrettably, Placido was of the latter variety, evident as light headedness washed over me, suggesting he had made an intentional strike while my guard had been down.
He quickly removed the knife and kneed me in the back, feeding the pain. I spun around, using his inability to properly defend himself to my dwindling advantage. Despite two solid blows to his abdomen and kick to the head, Placido only doubled over, taking less than a second to recover.
"You can't stop me," he repeated once more, "I won't let you."
As he lunged at me once more, I managed to side step him, preparing to bring the heel of my palm down on the back of his skull. Just as I reached back to garner the momentum I needed to take him out once and for all, he spun, driving the knife into my side and catching it in between two ribs. I growled while proceeding to deliver my intended hit, regrettably with half of the power I needed. Feeling my chest constrict with every shallow breath, I stunned his left arm with a nerve block, rendering it useless.
Rushing, I swung a roundhouse, nailing him in the back of the head and sending him flying away from me. With a brief second to spare, I spat and looked down at the embedded knife, doing my best to conserve oxygen by regulating my breathing. Before I could attempt to remove it, I noticed movement in front of me.
He wasn't going to stop.
The boy was crying again.
He wasn't going to stop.
I had to…
Without warning, I lost the ability to inhale, the only air moving was escaping my lungs and compressing them in my chest cavity. Holding my breath was unwise but my only option until I was able to take him down. My oxygen hungry brain and muscles made a final attack on him useless and pathetic, letting him knock me down with forward kick to my solar plexus. In an instant, Placido was kneeling above me, taking a hold of the knife with his right hand.
All I had to do was hit him, kick him, anything and it would be over…
He pushed the knife deeper and I cried out involuntarily, gripping his hands and doing my best to push them away.
"You bleed, you're not a monster. Just a man."
I took a weak hold onto his hands, my gloves too slick to get a grip. After a moment of staring down at me, started carving upward, using the rib as a guide. Despite the fact that pain was overwhelming, I couldn't manage anything more than a quiet gasp. Suddenly, he jerked his hands back, pulling the blade with them. I was too occupied with the sudden jolt of pain that I barely noticed him cutting his wrists free of the bonds.
Most of my foes, given a similar upper hand, would have been grinning down at me, ready to claim victory. Oddly enough, Placido looked sad.
"You don't understand," he spoke softly, "I do good things. I stop them, I stop them before they can hurt innocent families… like she hurt mine."
I suddenly wished I hadn't pushed my own Family away.
"I made a promise to my mother, the day she died… the day the Whore made her kill herself… I sat there… her blood on my hands… and I promised her, I would make sure no one suffered like she had... Like I had…"
I had made a similar promise…
Placido added, "If you are a man, than you must have a mother."
My mother's smiling face flashed in my shock-riddled mind.
I finally got a hold of his wrist, but was still unable to find the energy to do anything. He continued, "You know you would do anything for her… to make her happy…"
An image of her twitching and bleeding to death surfaced.
"She took my mother away from me…"
Months of little rest, hardly no sleep, all adding up to that very moment.
"No child should have to grow up without a mother…" He leaned in and whispered into my ear, "Did she teach you the Golden Rule? Do unto others…"
I slammed the reinforced brow of the cowl into his face, relieved when he sat up howling in pain, cupping his broken nose. His weight off of my chest, I was able to draw in a breath, enough to keep the fog out of my head. My limbs, cold and sluggish, took far too long to bring me back to my feet.
When Placido looked up at me, I growled "… as they would do unto you."
He smiled and I kicked him square in the face.
My reserve of energy spent, I stumbled back, letting my shoulders collide with the wall. I should have secured him again, five point restraints with the cuffs but I could barely keep my eyes open. Letting my head turn slowly, I looked to the boy as he trembled, hands covering his eyes. At his age, I had looked death in the eye.
Maybe his idea was…
My eyes snapped open to see Nightwing standing above me. I had no idea how long I had been out, long enough for the blood on my hands to become tacky. I tried to tell him to secure Placido, but my mouth wasn't working. He said something about the Mobile being outside and that Leslie and Alfred were waiting. I felt him jab something just underneath my left armpit, vaguely thinking he was doing a field dressing to let the air out of my chest.
With oxygen flooding my system, I looked to see Placido was bound, hands and feet, motionless. The boy hadn't moved as well, still quivering in the corner. I looked to the bed and tried to get Nightwing's attention to divert to her.
"She's fine, vitals are stable, unlike yours…"
"Still in better shape than you are…" he muttered as he applied compress bandages to my side, "… shouldn't have come here alone…"
"Shut up… and be thankful I left my cell at the Clocktower and was heading back into the city…"
"Wouldn't… stop… Promised his…"
"I mean it," the lenses of his cowl glowed in the dark room, "Shut up." He paused momentarily, "We've got to get you out of here… O says the feds are on their way."
"Is fine, come on, let's go home."
Wayne Manor, July 4th, 8:01 a.m.
The day after Placido was apprehended, every state newspaper and even a few national ones broadcasted his capture on the front page. Local news stations reported live from the scene, interviewed people of his past and did there best to make sense on how someone so normal could have done so much harm. Everyone associated with him had the same thing to say: a nice, quiet man, very polite and mannered, never would hurt a fly. Even his newspaper boy vouched for his good nature.
Since Special Crimes had made it to the scene before the FBI, Caffery had no hand in Placido's arrest. The only attention he received from reporters focused heavily on his laundry list of suspects had never included Placido until it was too late. To make matters worse, he had been joked about by the entire Gotham City police force. Special Crimes had even gone as far as Photoshopping an FBI identification card with Batman's picture and signature, putting it in a cheap leather wallet in Caffery's car.
Robin said that when Gordon told him, he had never laughed so hard in his life.
June Barlow, the widow of Henry Barlow, suffered a minor concussion and a fracture in her jaw. Their eight-year-old son was physically fine, nothing that years of therapy wouldn't solve. Odds were that the second she was done burying her husband, she and her son would be leaving the former Placido residence without looking back.
Placido had suffered a number of injuries prior to police arriving to the scene from an unidentified assailant. Aside from a eight bones being shattered in his forearm and wrist, he had a crushed nose, dislocated jaw, a moderate concussion and a number of bruised ribs. When he had woken in the hospital the morning after he had been taken into custody, the first thing he had asked for was his mother.
There had been no word from Selina and I doubted that there would be for some time. Even though Placido was in custody, the problems that had arisen between us were not over. Not for the first time and surely not for the last, I had let my work interfere with my life, driving away someone I cared about. Then again, the safest place for anyone was to be as far away as I could push them.
As the rest of Gotham prepared to spend the holiday with their family and friends, I watched the morning news in bed, doing my best to sit up against a mountain of pillows. For the fourth day in a row, Placido was the lead story, still listed in stable condition in the police ward of Gotham General. Although he had yet to formally make a confession about his actions, there was enough evidence to put him away for a long, long time. Given his mental instability, I had reasoned that his path seemed to be headed towards Arkham, or hopefully, to a state mental institution as far from my city as possible.
As the anchor moved on to discuss the highlights of that night's Fourth of July Festival at Robinson Park, I shut the television off and closed my eyes. Alfred had taken the chest tube out the night before and it felt much better to breath without my lung collapsing. By the time Dick and I had pulled up to the Clinic that night, I had lost consciousness. After two blood transfusions, eighty internal and external stitches, I was deemed fit enough to live another day. I woke the next morning to a lengthy, dramatic appraisal from Alfred, including the claim that I had nearly died.
Dick had readily backed him up, "You were pretty blue… and not in the glum kind of way."
I had been ordered to at least two weeks of bed rest and another two weeks of relaxation to allow the internal damage enough time to heal. It would be much longer before I was able to properly move around without grimacing in pain. I had been openly angry at myself for not being able to apprehend Placido without incident, but Alfred had been quick to point out that the odds had indefinitely been against me.
As they had my entire life.
It had not been luck that Dick was forced to return to the city that night, more so a blessing. Batgirl and Robin had been on their way once Oracle had informed them of my plan but I had doubted that either would have made it in time. Nightwing had been the closest and my only chance at ever seeing the light of day again, of which he had reminded me of every waking moment since.
Following patrols, he had dropped by earlier that morning, making sure I was following doctor's orders so not to ruin hi efforts. I had grumbled something about hubris and he had chided back, "Call it what you want, Bruce… can't fault it if it's the truth."
"Keep it up, Icarus."
He had smiled before responding, "Well, Happy Fourth. I'm off to sleep until the fifth."
Alone, I settled back against the pillows, exhausted myself despite the last few days I had spent sleeping. A tone sounded from the phone on the nightstand, followed by Alfred's voice, "Sir?"
"What?" I grumbled, my eyes still shut.
"I have a lovely dish of poached eggs just begging to be devoured, Master Bruce..."
I growled, "No."
"Is there something you would prefer, than? Perhaps a hearty omelet, Belgian waffles, another gladiatorial fight to the death?" the sincerity in his voice was unnerving.
He paused and then signed off, "Very well then, Master Bruce. I shall leave you to your speedy recovery."
As silence returned to the room, I shifted carefully, still wincing as my weight fell on the wound on my lower back. With an injury on my back and on my side, it had been difficult to find a somewhat comfortable position to lie in for a period longer than an hour. I adjusted the pillow at the small of my back and reclined more on my left side.
At the discovery of comfort, I sighed.
Just short of falling asleep, I heard the door open and I smelt strong coffee and warm breakfast. I kept my eyes closed, "Alfred, what part of no did you not understand?"
My eyes flew open when I heard a female voice reply, "I think the man who nearly had himself sheared into filet mignon doesn't get a say in… anything."
I stared in disbelief as Selina casually set the tray on the opposite night table before walking around and sitting beside me on the bed. She wore a knee length black skirt and a midnight blue silk blouse, make up had been applied, but I could still see dark smudges beneath her eyes.
Although it was agony, I sat up and did my best to hide the pain.
She cleared her throat and then said, "You know, I usually love Independence Day. I don't celebrate in much of a patriotic sense, more like my own personal independence. But this morning, when I woke up and stepped out onto the terrace, I didn't feel independent at all. Then I realized that I haven't felt it in some time." She took a deep breath and paused before continuing, "And I actually don't mind it… as much as I thought I would."
Her eyes left my face momentarily, looking over the bandages that covered my bare torso, the mottled bruising that raged my flesh. A sad look came over her face, making me feel even worse than I already had. I felt her hand carefully touch the bandages on my side and then traced her fingers up to my chest, "This is exactly why you should listen to me. Bad things happen when you don't."
"So I've learned."
She smiled sadly before leaning closer, pressing her brow to mine, "Are you okay?"
Slowly, I nodded against her head.
Selina moved her hand to rest it over my heart, drawing her face back to ask, "Are we okay?"
I didn't nod. Instead, I put my hand over hers and looked into a pair of emerald eyes as if for the first time.
I didn't shake my head. Instead, I kissed her as if it was going to be the last time.