Title: With or Without Her

Author: DC Luder

Summary: They chose the path, now they'll never be able to return.

Author's Note: All recognizable characters belong to DC Comics, not DC Luder.

A/N 2: Links to the inked artwork that inspired this fiction can be found on my website on theTales of The Dark Knight page. It is beautifully crafted work and the following is my interpretation of it before it was completed with dialogue and inking. I advise that you look at the images and then come back and read the fic, it will be well worth your time.

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Love cures people -- both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it.

Dr. Karl Ménage

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It had been nearly twenty-four hours since she had last seen him. An entire day apart had felt like an eternity for her and she found herself constantly aware of the time. She never wore a watch, as it would interfere with her bracelets, but kept a good mental record of what time it was. Even before she entered the house she knew it was a little before ten in the evening.

Her last chance to catch him before patrols.

Prior to entering the house, she had done her best to assess if he was even home. The garage was full and the only sign of life in the house was an old man's form on the second floor, dozing with a leather bound book in his hands. Which meant he was down below.

A full moon's illumination formed eerie shadows in the vast rooms on the ground floor. She remembered seeing images of the original mansion in the midst of reports from the earthquake that had reduced centuries of memories to rubble. Completely reformed, it reminded her of a medieval castle more than billionaire's mansion. Which was fitting, because the billionaire was really a dark knight.

Her steps were silent on the thick carpets that trimmed the halls. Although she had never toured alone, she had no fear of getting lost as she had remembered every corner and turn. Within minutes she walked through an open door, glancing around as she assessed the room. The couches were empty and the only noticeable color was a vase of flowers on a credenza. As she crossed the room towards the Grandfather clock, she couldn't help but look up above empty fireplace.

A masterpiece portrait in oils for certain. The colors and textures superbly represented, giving life to a couple that had been dead for nearly thirty years. As she stared up at the painting, it was striking how similar he and his father looked. Although, the man had a soft featured face, even more enlightened as he admired his wife beside him.

She suddenly wished she could see that same expression on his face.

She reached up carefully and adjusted the time, took note as the locks disengaged and the door moved on hidden tracts. The warmth of the room was suddenly lost as a wave of cool, damp air came up to meet her. As to not announce her presence, she drifted down the stairway, her feet mere inches above the damp granite steps. Aside from soft cries in the dark and the recurring echoes of water dripping, the only other sound she detected was the rhythmic clatter of typing. Then a quick growl as he cleared his throat.

A vast majority of the lights were off in the cavern, allowing for its natural eeriness to come through. She studied the jagged form of the cavern walls, the alterations that had been made over the years and then the soft radiance of a computer screen.

He was silhouetted as the display glowed in front of him, outlining his unmasked head and broad shoulders. The screen was filled with text windows and flow charts, his attempt at categorizing crime. She stepped up onto the platform that held the computer console, setting off a soft sound that stirred the slumbering bats above.

Then silence as he paused in his work and looked up at the screen. His reflection was striking, a fine mixture between his two identities. Eyes narrowed, brows slightly furred, his lips pursed as his jaw tightened. She recognized the cold glare in his reflection and did her best to stand boldly, hands on her hips and shoulders drawn back. Then, as she looked at her own reflection, she began to lose her composure. Her hip tilted to one side slightly as she drew her left arm across her front to hug herself.

To comfort herself.

The glare that his reflection showed was unwavering, despite her uncomfortable body language. She suddenly wondered if he even cared that she had come back to see him. Or perhaps if he cared too much and could not find a way to express it without losing his composure. If he even cared at all.

It came to her suddenly, a warmth that spread from deep inside her and extend to every fiber of her body. The memory of feeling his lips slant across hers and his hand on her head, gently removing her tiara as her nimble fingers slipped his cowl off…

She composed herself once more and stood with her arms at her sides, looking at him and wondering if he was thinking about the same. There was a softening in his eyes that said that he was. Before she could stop herself, her mind drifted further back into the memory, recalling sensations too good to deny.

They had been just outside of his bedroom the night before. She had followed him up from the cave, demanding he talk to her about a subject they had ignored for far too long. He had refused to admit there was something between them, an attraction of some sort. Having known him for as long as she had, she knew this was his display of denial, just as any other time he had been on the other side of the table on any matter.

Just as he had reached the door, he looked at her in such a way that words became unnecessary. They moved towards one another, eyes closing as two pairs of lips met. Without looking, they shuffled into the dark room and made their way to the bed as she had removed his cape and allowed it to drop to the floor. He had reclined first, placing his hands on her sides as he pulled her down over him, their lips still moving across one another.

She had been standing behind him for nearly five minutes and he still hadn't made any move to accept the fact that she was there. A flash of anger flared in her eyes she watched his statuesque posture before her mind returned to the events of the night before.

They had not uttered a single word and simply conversed through their actions. She had been surprised at how gentle his hands had been, despite the calluses and the power that rested within them. His touch had been unbelievably quiet as he had removed her bodice, barely making contact with her skin. And how he had taken her jaw into his hands, guiding her mouth to his. And how he had sighed so very quietly as her lips traveled down his chest…

The slightest crinkle of leather interrupted her thoughts and she looked to see him drawing his hand back to rest it on the arm of the chair. Her gaze shifted back to his reflection, hoping for some sort of reaction but not shocked when there hadn't been. Then she saw it. A faint parting of his lips, just as he had before in order to kiss her. She opened her mouth to say something and then noticed his grip on the arm tighten.

She balled her fist as if it would prevent the returning of the sensation of his hand meshed with hers. Every cell of her palm was suddenly tingling, just as they had the night before as she pressed it against his palm, pinning it to the mattress as his fingers had slipped between hers.

He leaned forward slightly, still avoiding her eyes, but unable to avoid his memories.

How could he have forgotten, she thought, she still could hardly believe what had happened between them. It had felt unreal, making love to him, but at the same time so right. Years of undue tension disappeared with every kiss and every touch. Still standing in the same position as when she had arrived, she looked down, her eyes closed slightly. Perhaps it had meant more to her than it had to him, after all, he had been with so many others…

It was then she heard him sigh.

She looked up to see his head lowered even further, and in his reflection she noticed his eyes were closed, a look of pain spreading across his features. When they opened, his brow had relaxed and there was a clarity in his eyes that she had only seen once before.

They had been laying side-by-side, his one arm around her bare shoulders as the other took hold of her hand. She had reached over and tilted his face towards hers, looking forever into an endless blue gaze. Kissing him so softly that it wouldn't have registered in her senses had there been no intention behind it.

What was he thinking, she asked herself, that last night had been a mistake? That it would never work? Was he thinking back on how he held her against him, how she had cried out his name, how that for just one moment they were one being?

She had to find out, if no reason than for her own sanity. The hard soles of her boots scraped against the stone floor as she closed the distance between them. He had to have known it would come to this, that she wouldn't have let him retreat into the darkness alone. As she placed a hand on the back of his chair, she stopped and looked down at him tenderly, secretly begging him to answer her unasked questions.

He didn't.

Instead, he turned his head towards her slightly as she about faced, just before she reached out and took his hand into hers. She expected him to withdraw quickly, to end the unwarranted contact. Instead, he looked straight ahead, trying not to acknowledge the act while at the same time allowing her to pull his arm back. She felt him shift his weight slightly and almost smiled at the thought that he was going to stand up.

She knew better, though.

After another glance back at him, head turned away from her, she let him go and retraced her steps across the stone floor and towards the granite steps. As she ascended the stairs, this time walking instead of flying, she gazed back at him once more to see him in the same stoic position in his chair. Had she looked back a moment later; she would have seen his form bent over, face hidden in his hands.

He would have to learn to live with her.

He would have to learn to live without her.

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