Locked Inside the Façade
There's a face that we wear
In the cold light of day
It's society's mask
It's society's way
And the truth is
That it's all a façade!
There's a face that we hide
Till the nighttime appears
And what's hiding inside
Behind all of our fears
Is our true self
Locked inside the Façade
---Frank Wildhorn and Leslie Bricusse, "Jekyll & Hyde"
Disclaimer: All characters property of DC comics. If they were mine, we wouldn't have a Scarebeast, but I digress…
Note: This fic inspired by a certain rumour posted at Lying in the Gutters. Personally, I am not in favor of this idea. But Maxwell Lord has been reincarnated as a plot bunny. And he's been working on me for days. His influence is just too powerful to be fought…
Chapter 1: No More
No more riddles
No more jests
No more curses you can't undo
Left by fathers you never knew
No more tests
No more feelings
Time to shut the door
Just… no more
--Stephen Sondheim, "Into the Woods"
Batman elbowed another assailant in the throat as he kicked backward to disable a third. That left two more, assuming no reinforcements on their way. One of those two, dashed up from behind, a wooden chair upraised. Batman spun, and leapt into the air, smashing the chair with one foot, while connecting with the hireling's jaw with the other. He landed, rolling, rose to his feet, and let fly a hail of batarangs at the final attacker. Crying out in pain, the man escaped down the hallway.
Batman immediately directed his attention to the man in the corner, tied to a chair. "Alfred," he said, his voice betraying only a slight tremor as he took stock of the numerous bruises and lacerations visible on the older man's face and forearms, "It's me." The old man stirred feebly. He appeared barely to be breathing. Comatose? "Hold on," Batman continued, gently. "I'll have you out in a minute. Just relax, Old Friend. You're safe, now."
He frowned. When he got his hands on Black Mask, there was going to be hell to pay for this. Alfred had been missing for fifty-one hours. In the course of those fifty-one hours, Bruce Wayne had neither eaten nor slept, diverting all his efforts toward finding the man who was his father in all ways save blood. More his father than Thomas Wayne, at this point, he knew, though rarely admitted. Father, teacher, friend… since his parents' deaths, Alfred Pennyworth had been all of these and more. Truthfully, calling him a butler or a valet was an insult, although Alfred would never see it as such.
He sniffed the air. Smoke… and chemicals… fire! Several floors below, but this condemned structure of aged timbers and crumbling cement was about to go up like a tinder box… or a powder keg, depending on what that chemical smell was. No time to analyse it now, he realized as he heard feet running toward him. He quickly cut Alfred loose. "The stairs aren't safe," he whispered. "Sorry, Old Friend, but we're going to have to take a faster way out.
So saying, he gathered the elderly man into his arms and stepped out onto the fire escape. The safety railing was more rust than iron, he noted, as were the metal slats below. Batman shifted Alfred to one arm, in order to detach his decel cable from his utility belt.
Someone hurtled into him from behind. "It's gonna blow!" a familiar voice said, as Batman fell forward, into the 'safety rail' which immediately gave way. To Batman's horror, the force of the impact knocked Alfred out of his grasp. He cast the grapnel blindly, hoping it would find purchase, while he reached desperately for the older man. He caught the back of Alfred's shirt, as the grapnel caught a third-story brick windowsill. Safe, he thought with relief, as he heard a crackling sound from behind. An instant later, came a deafening explosion. In the alleyway, it began to rain fire. Something heavy slammed into the hand clutching his decel line. The sudden shock caused him to release his grip. Dumpster below me, he registered, dimly, trying to manoeuvre for it. But there wasn't enough time, and he couldn't let go of Alfred… there was a moment of blinding pain, as his tibia slammed into the rim of the dumpster. For the second time, Alfred was torn from his grasp, as he fell the last few feet to the concrete below.
He landed heavily on his back, instinctively tucking in his chin as he hit. Disoriented, he looked around him. On the ground, inches away, a slightly built figure in denims and a bomber jacket lay on its stomach bleeding heavily. A splintered wooden shaft projected at an angle from his side. The red hood--helmet, really--had cracked on impact. "J-Jason?" He asked.
"Yeah…" the figure said weakly. "Found out… what Black Mask had… planned… for… 'lfred…"
"Don't speak," Batman said urgently. "Save your strength."
"Heh." Jason coughed. "No point. Sorry… was too… slow. Least… you're both out…" He coughed again. "Took…" his voice was little more than a wheeze, now… "th' brunt of the… blast. This is…" he gasped, then struggled to continue. "G-getting to… damn! Be… a… h-h-habit…" and the wheeze faded into a rattle.
"Jason!" With shaking hands, Batman pulled off the helmet. Jason's face was extraordinarily pale. A thin trickle of blood ran from the corner of his mouth. Under Batman's horrified gaze, the pupils began to dilate. "No." I've lost him, he thought miserably. Again. Then realization hit. Alfred! He forced himself to a sitting position, doing his best to ignore the blinding pain in his right leg. Once he was upright, he understood better the reason for that agony: the tip of the bone was protruding from the Kevlar. He grimaced. Compound fracture. Getting away from here had just become a lot more complicated. He cast about frantically looking for Alfred.
He found him. He found him, face up, not more than six inches away from him, half buried under splintered wood and crumbled cement. He found him with one large piece of cement crushing his temple, and a pool of blood around his head. What he couldn't find--despite frenzied efforts--was a pulse. What he couldn't find--search though he did--was any sign of breath or movement. I've lost him, he realized in horror. He's… gone. They're gone. Alfred… and Jason… both… gone… Alfred and Jason… both lying in their own blood… in an alley… in the middle of the night…
The agony in his heart masked the throbbing in his leg. Much as the screaming in his mind masked the wailing of the sirens in the distance. Somewhere in the deepest recesses of his consciousness, he knew that he had to get away from here quickly. Physically, that wasn't going to be possible…
"Attention all units," the police radio crackled to life. "911 called in at 62 Grummet near Vines. Any units in that area please respond."
"That's us, Cris," Detective Renee Montoya said. Allen was already answering the dispatcher.
"…We're on our way," he finished, closing the channel. "What do you think, Renee?" he asked.
Montoya sighed. "Probably need an ambulance, not us. We still have to check it, though… what the HELL?" This last as they came up to the smoking crater that had, apparently, been 62 Grummet.
Allen swore. "Think anyone was inside?"
"If there was," Montoya said judiciously, "I don't think they got out in time. Park the car. Let's look around."
Cris Allen complied. "Arson, you think?"
Renee got out of the car, and slammed the door shut behind her. "Could be. Or," she said in a slightly different tone of voice, noting a small knot of people clustered at the mouth of the adjacent alley, "someone might've made it out after all." She approached, badge out. Allen followed.
"GCPD," she announced, briskly, brandishing her badge. "What's going on?" Noone answered her. The half-dozen or so people backed away, mumbling. Then she saw what… or rather who… had caught their attention.
"Stay back, Cris," she ordered softly. "Warn me if anyone's coming." Please hear me, Batman. Please do something to distract me so I can turn around, and you can pull that vanishing act. Damn, I don't want to be the one who brings you in!"
"Batman?" she whispered, noting, almost in passing, the two bodies nearby. Her eyes widened. The older guy looks familiar from somewhere. Now where have I seen him, before? "Batman?" She repeated, more urgently. There was no response save his laboured breathing. "Batman, it's Renee Montoya, GCPD. What happened here?" His back was to her. He hadn't moved at all at her approach. When she reached his position, she took in the broken leg at a glance. Oh, sh--. We've actually caught him. "Cris," she called behind her, "call an ambulance. We've got an injured party, here." She hesitated, not wanting to utter the next words. Duty forced her. "Request backup, too. It… it's Batman." I don't want to do this. But if I have to, I'd better get it right. And I've seen him get out of some tight situations, before.
Allen came forward. "Oh, sh--"
"My sentiments, exactly. Watch the alley. Warn off anyone getting too close. We don't want word to get out to the media."
Good point. By rights, the police commissioner should be notified, directly. But his opposition to Batman was far more personal than professional. And, ever since the gang wars, Akins had been trying--trying too hard--to prove to the city, read: press, that his people could do their jobs without outside interference. Once he finds out… he'll probably IGNITE that media circus. "It could be a false alarm," she said unconvincingly. "We notify him when we're positive. That way, if we're wrong, he doesn't make a fool of himself on the air."
"Sounds good," Allen said. "Stick to that version, and I'll back you. Did you Miranda-ize him, yet?"
Montoya shook her head. "Batman?" Hesitantly, she placed a hand on his shoulder. He flinched, and drew in his breath noisily. "Batman, I'm--I'm placing you under arrest. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law…"
He heard, but did not react. This wasn't happening to him. He had not just lost surrogate father and surrogate son in one night. He wasn't sitting in an alley, injured, too spent to resist. Have to get away. They'll find out who I am. He recognized this, but didn't move. Alfred always told me to take responsibility for my mistakes…
"Batman? Do you understand these rights as I have read them?"
He hadn't been paying attention, but he knew the drill. He ducked his head, once, then lifted it.
Montoya sat down on the pavement next to him. "I'm sorry," she said miserably. "I really didn't think it would come to this."
"Ambulance's here," Allen called. "And backup."
A moment later, two attendants approached with a stretcher. Six officers followed on their heels.Including one gung-ho rookie with a drawn service revolver. He brandished it in the direction of the fallen vigilante. "Don't you flipping move, creep! Put your hands on your head!"
One of the paramedics glanced up angrily. "Detective, could you--"
Montoya was already on her feet and in the young officer's face. "Is it 'don't move' or 'hands on head', Rookie?" she snapped. Did you happen to notice that he's already in custody? Right now, your job is to help secure this crime scene. I'd suggest you start doing it, and let the paramedics do theirs. Got it?" The much-chastened officer mumbled an incoherent apology and stumbled off in the direction of one of the bodies.
She turned back to watch the medical personnel as they treated Batman's leg. He didn't react. Not to the pain as they manipulated the bone, nor to the transfer from pavement to stretcher, nor to the restraints they buckled at chest and thigh, nor even to the shackle they snapped around his wrist, securing him to the bed.
"Someone want to ride in back? Just in case?" One of the paramedics asked nervously. Yes, of course, Montoya thought sarcastically. He might turn violent and GLARE at you! Still, she welcomed the request. If there were any more on the force like that young idiot--and she could name off a few without trying--well, she didn't usually listen to reports of police brutality. She'd been investigated by Internal Affairs enough to know that oftentimes, their agenda included getting the evidence to fit their version of the truth, rather than examining the evidence to GET at the truth. But she knew that enough of her fellow officers held Batman solely accountable for the gang war, months ago, that had claimed the lives of thirty of Gotham's finest. And if any of them thought that now would be the perfect time to settle old scores… Admit it, Renee. You've looked up to him since your teens. And now, he's going to need friends, and you want to be one of them. Stupid adolescent fantasy. Like Mom and Pop inviting Daria to Christmas dinner, and everything being alright again… Or perps staying put once they're sent away. She smiled, bitterly. Then she thought about it. Fantasy or not, it doesn't change the fact that he needs a few friends, right now. And if anything does happen while he's in custody, anything that you could have prevented…
"I'll ride," she said, feigning reluctance. "Cris, follow in the unit." She'd have to track down James Gordon's forwarding phone number, she thought to herself as she approached the ambulance. And maybe, there was some way to reach one of the sanctioned 'capes', and find out how to get in touch with some of Batman's former partners. It was worth looking into.
She pulled down the folding bench opposite the stretcher. "Hang in there, Batman," she whispered. "It's not over yet."