Where has the starlight gone
Dark is the day
How can I find my way home?
Home is an empty dream
Lost to the night
Father, I feel so alone
You promised you'd be there
Whenever I needed you
Whenever I call your name
You're not anywhere
I'm trying to hold on
Just trying to hear your voice
One word, just a word will do…
Julie Taymor, "Endless Night"
Lost to the Night
Disclaimer: DC owns all non-original characters. I'm not making a cent off of this. If they sue me, they're shooting themselves in the foot, because I won't be able to afford any more comics. "Endless Night" Copyright 1997 by Walt Disney records. From the original Broadway Cast Recording of The Lion King. "Good For Nothing" copyright 2005 by Disney Enterprises Inc. From the London Cast Recording CD of Mary Poppins.
Please note: DC canon is followed up until the conclusion of the Sacrifice arc. After that, there is a divergency. This is the sequel to "Locked Insided the Facade", and although you will probably be able to follow along just fine without having read it, it does provide some background and context for this story.
Chapter 1: Shattered Illusions
When you realise your worst fears have been realised
And certainties now seem a bit less sure
Ideals that at one time seemed idealised
Now don't seem so ideal anymore
Where once there was order
Chaos has been loosed
And home-truths like chickens
Are coming home to roost
Illusions may shatter but memories stay…Anthony Drew, "Good For Nothing"
Oswald Cobblepot settled himself comfortably into a Queen Mary wing chair. As he leaned back against the silk brocade upholstery, he tipped his feet up so that his heels rested on a nineteenth century Chinese Nanmu Altar table. It was good to be back in Gotham. He fitted a chunghwa cigarette into a black lacquered Dunhill holder, lit it, and slowly inhaled.
Outside his lavishly appointed office, the patrons of the Iceberg Lounge were cheerfully sampling the liquor, the canapés, and the… other delights for which his nightclub had a reputation. To the jaded socialites and businessmen of Gotham, the club was a fixture of the Midtown restaurant scene. True, its opulence skirted, and often crossed the border, from elegant to gaudy. There were whispered rumours that its buxom hostesses had found ways to supplement their incomes in rooms not generally open to the public. And its diminutive owner had a questionable past and no breeding worth mentioning. On the other hand, the food was excellent, the jazz quartet sublime, and the exorbitant prices heaven-sent to a myriad of young fops out to impress their lady friends. Yes, in an area where restaurants and clubs came and went with shocking regularity, the Iceberg was a lucrative operation, seemingly immune to economic downturn. And, in a city frequently subject to crime waves, no patron had ever been robbed while under the protection of the club's four walls.
Cobblepot chortled to himself as he checked the closed circuit cameras that afforded him a view of his clientele. Nobody would dare attack my customers here. Nor me either, for that matter. He frowned. Nobody but the Bat, at any rate and he hasn't—
"He's out there!"
Cobblepot sat up so quickly that the heels of his shoes scratched the veneer of the coffee table. The man who stood quaking before him had, at least, known to enter via the side door in the alley. He bent forward, clutching the back of a Louis Quatorze chair for support as he tried to catch his breath.
With a sniff, the Penguin set down the cigarette holder, crossed to the wall, and opened a bar fridge. San Pellegrino? Acqua Panna? He frowned. Not for this lout. He closed the fridge, walked over to the sink, and ran cold water into a disposable plastic cup. "Here."
With a shaking hand, his visitor accepted the cup and downed the water. Much to Cobblepot's dismay, he sat down heavily in the chair. "He's out there, Penguin," the man repeated.
"Calm yourself, my good man," Cobblepot snapped. He waited for the man to stop shaking. "Now tell me."
His guest drew a deep breath. "We were in the Diamond District, casing the shop you told us abou—"
At the Penguin's frown, the man hastily amended: "W-we were window-shopping boss. And we thought we'd found something that would interest you, so we was trying to get it—"
Cobblepot rolled his eyes. He could see where this was going. "And he intervened?"
"Th-that's right, Penguin. He caught the others but I got away."
Did he? Oswald Cobblepot, known to the Gotham underworld as 'The Penguin', brought his monocle swiftly to his eye. He pointed toward an antique brass credenza with a copper decorative swag and vine motif, on which a several crystal decanters stood. "Sherry?" He asked solicitously.
The man blinked at the sudden change in Penguin's demeanor. "Su-sure, boss. Thanks."
Cobblepot beckoned him over and poured out a glass. "Tell me, my good fellow," he said sharply, "did the Batman lay a hand on you at any time?"
His henchman shook his head. "He tried, Penguin, but I was too fast for him." He laughed. "He was gonna grab my coat 'n I just ducked an' kept running."
To me, Cobblepot thought. "Romelly," he said, "I believe you have a thread loose on that blazer of yours." At Romelly's blank stare, he continued, "here. Allow me." Quickly he ran his hand over the fabric, scowling as his finger snagged something smooth and metallic that did not belong on the jacket. With one finger, he flicked off the tracer. "I believe I'll pour myself another drink," he remarked.
"Another?" Romelly blinked. "You haven't taken a first one."
As his right hand closed on the decanter, Penguin's left index finger found the silent alarm on the wall behind the credenza. He pressed it. And then, with one fluid motion, he raised the decanter (a knockoff of a Gorham Lady Anne design that he kept on hand for these emergencies) and hurled it at Romelly.
"What're you doing?" Romelly shouted as he tried to dodge. The crystal bottle clipped him on the shoulder.
Cobblepot ignored his cry of shock. "Thief!" He screeched. "Thief! Take what you want, and get out! Help! Police!"
Romelly backed away, eyes wide, shaking his head. Both doors to the office, the one from which Romelly had entered, and the one that led out to the lounge area, burst open and GCPD officers poured in.
The Penguin pretended not to notice and continued to call loudly for assistance, until two police officers rushed over to calm him down. "Oh, thank heaven you've arrived, officers," he burst out then. "It was ghastly, simply ghastly."
"I'm sure it was, Mr. Cobblepot." The officer whipped out a pad and pen. "Are you able to give us a statement, now?"
The officers had barely been gone ten minutes when a pricking sensation at the back of his neck told Cobblepot that he was not alone in the room.
"That was a good trick," a harsh voice grated.
Oswald didn't turn around. "I haven't the foggiest notion what you're talking about."
"Of course not," Batman said mockingly. "You're a humble businessman."
"And proud of it," Cobblepot taunted. "Funny how you're always on hand for a purse snatching, but let a legitimate business get burglarised and suddenly you're nowhere to be found."
The costumed crime-fighter paused. "You know, Ozzie," he said, "you actually do have a point."
Cobblepot spun to face him. "Eh?"
Batman nodded dolefully. "I've been remiss, and for that I deeply apologise."
Penguin frowned. Batman… never apologised. Where was the catch?
"You see, Ozzie," he continued, "I'll admit I've had some suspicions about this club in the past. But I never should have let those suspicions influence my judgement." He nodded again. "From this night forward," he intoned, "I promise you that I will be keeping an especially close eye on this establishment."
Cobblepot's jaw dropped. He felt suddenly faint.
Seemingly oblivious, Batman continued, "in fact, you can rest assured that going forward, no potential criminal will be able to enter or leave these premises without my knowledge." He laid a gloved hand on the perspiring little man's Armani tuxedo. "I'll be watching out for you from now on, Ozzie," he said, fighting a smile. "Count on it."
Barbara's voice came through the cowl receiver, slightly amused. "Was that nice?"
"Nice?" Dick repeated. "Batman doesn't do 'nice'."
"Well, no… but he never used to do evil incarnate, either."
"OK, he never used to do that brand of evil incarnate." She laughed.
"Ozzie had it coming."
"He did that." She knew the answer to her next question, but she still asked it. "What next, Current Bat-Wonder?"
Batman's flippant mood vanished. "Arkham," he said. "I want to see how Bruce is doing."
Oracle shook her head sadly. He knew that she'd interfaced the security cameras in Bruce's cell. He knew that she always had that link up, and that she checked it more frequently than she did Joker's. He knew that if he'd asked her for an update she would have told him that there had been no change. But even had she volunteered the information, she knew that it wouldn't have made a difference; Dick would still have wanted to head over to Arkham. It might make a difference for Bruce.
He didn't know how long he had been here. Without a calendar, he couldn't be sure of the date. With a calendar, the days would still be identical: therapy sessions blurring into each other, meals that, despite some menu variation, still possessed a sameness. Sometimes breakfast was a muffin. Other times it might be a roll or a danish. But it was always something that could be eaten without the benefit of cutlery. It was the same with lunch and dinner: the sandwich fillings varied, the inclusion of sandwiches on the bill of fare, to the virtual exclusion of all other options, did not.
He supposed that he could have complained. But really, what was the point? They knew who he was. They weren't about to allow him access to anything that he might be able to use as a means of escape. In a way, Bruce supposed, it was almost flattering. If they thought he could use plastic cutlery to somehow pry the hinges off of his door, or to scoop the mortar out from between the cinderblock walls of his cell, in full view of the security cameras that monitored every inch of his quarters… He shook his head, bemused, half-wondering what Jeremiah would make of his sudden movement. Or that new doctor of his… was it a new doctor? He'd lost count.
He'd gone through a slew of them already, it seemed. Some genuinely wanted to help. Others, he suspected, wanted the celebrity associated with being "Batman's shrink". Still others seemed to have been Peter-principled into their positions, and viewed their patients as a necessary evil in order to collect a paycheque. And then, there were those that led Bruce to conclude that nepotism had to be alive and well in Arkham—that or mob connections—because there was no other way that some of these doctors could be licensed. In actuality, though, it didn't matter. He treated them all the same way: by ignoring them.
Promptly at 10 a.m., five days per week—he guessed that it was probably Monday through Friday, but he really wasn't sure at this point—the attendants bundled him into a wheelchair and escorted him to a therapy session. (True, he no longer needed a cane, but he had determined to resist any and all efforts to 'cure' him. That included walking to the sessions under his own power. Administration preferred wheeling him to the sessions over dragging him there.) It was always a toss-up whether the doctor would allow him to remain in the chair, or insist that the attendants transfer him to the couch. Whatever the therapist's choice, Bruce would sit, head lowered, eyes closed, hands on his lap, and pay no further attention to his surroundings.
After about ten minutes of this behaviour, most doctors would attempt to provoke a reaction. They would cajole, shout, one had even jerked his head up and backhanded him. Bruce still remembered the sudden fear in that doctor's eyes when he realized what he had done and nervously backed away. The doctor needn't have worried. Once he released him, Bruce had simply lowered his head again and sat calmly, waiting out the rest of the hour. He never saw that doctor again.
He knew that Dick was right. If he worked with the doctors, there was an excellent chance of another competency hearing—one he would probably pass. That presupposed, of course, that he wanted to pass the hearing. It presupposed that he wanted to leave. He didn't. His own failures had brought him here. This was where he belonged. If only everyone would just leave him alone and stop trying to help him! He had to be here. After Alfred, after Jim, after more than a decade of seeing people hurt—or worse—because of his actions, this was the right place for him. He wasn't going to fight it… so why did everybody else?
He'd been asking himself this question for ages, it seemed. Meanwhile, he went through the motions. He ate, he exercised, he attended his therapy sessions, he slept, and he told himself that this was neither more nor less than he deserved. In his mind, he repeated this to himself continually, as he set about accepting his current situation. When the doctor struck him, he accepted it. When his grilled cheese sandwich was ice-cold by the time it came to him, he accepted it. When Tim came to tell him that between working on his grades—he was in his senior year, now—and keeping a lid on crime in Gotham, he wasn't going to be dropping by as often, he accepted it. He accepted it all. Freely. Willingly.
Then, understandably, boredom set in.
"Hi, Bruce. How'd it go today?"
Dick. Of course. He rarely missed a day—and when he did, he always made sure that someone else came in his place. It was one more part of the routine: within the last hour before lights out, Dick would come by. Bruce never acknowledged his presence; in fact, he usually made a point of having his face turned away from the mesh-screened window that faced out into the corridor.
Dick waited for a moment, as though he expected Bruce to reply. He never did, of course. That was also part of the routine.
"Listen, about tomorrow night. I bought the roses, but I just wanted to double-check the time."
Roses. He kept his eyes closed. He hadn't realized that it was coming up on that anniversary.
"Was it 8:43?"
He had to hand it to the younger man. It was an excellent question, one meant to elicit a response. Except, of course, that Dick had to already know the time of his parents' murder. A grandfather clock in the main study concealed the stairway leading from the manor to the cave. In order to access that stair, one was required to position the hands of the clock to 8:25. Dick knew that.
"Things have changed a bit at the manor," Dick's tone was guarded. Bruce could appreciate that. Although the guards withdrew enough to allow them a measure of privacy, the conversation—or monologue, to be exact—almost had to be monitored. "I guess you can probably figure out that after they arrested you, the cops searched the manor for evidence. They kept coming back—they never found anything they could use—but a lot of things got moved around. I haven't been up to the house for months, now."
Bruce translated automatically: his team had sprung into action to hide as much evidence of his activities as Batman as they could. If the clock still existed, Dick wasn't using it. Either he was accessing the cave from one of the other entrances, or he wasn't using the main cave at all. It was plausible. Even likely.
Still, as much as he appreciated Dick's gesture, the fact remained: placing roses in Crime Alley on the night of the year on which Thomas and Martha Wayne died was one of his traditions, but it was a duty that he had taken upon himself. It was good of Dick to let him know that the tradition would be upheld despite Bruce's inability to fulfil it. In the larger scheme of things, though, did it really matter whether Dick was 20 minutes late?
Dick continued to talk softly, as Bruce felt his eyelids grow heavier. By the time the light switched off at nine P.M., he was sound asleep.
The younger man waited another moment. "Well, goodnight, Bruce," he said finally. "I'll see you tomorrow." There was no hint of sorrow in his voice or on his face until he was safely off the asylum grounds. Then, he pulled over to the side of the road, and clutched the steering wheel until his knuckles turned white. Until the ridges of the wheel rim felt like they had engraved their imprint on his hands.
Once he had attained a measure of control, he drove back to the nearby satellite cave where he had parked the other car. Automatically, he exchanged his street clothes for a fresh suit. The night was still young. And the city still needed Batman. And until things are different, it's still stuck with me.
The next day proceeded as usual. Another muffin. Another pointless therapy session. Then back to his cell. After lunch, Bruce paced relentlessly from door to wall and back. He'd been doing so for months to build up his healing broken leg, and although the exercise was no longer necessary, the truth was that there wasn't much else for him to do. He had no contact with the other inmates. For his own protection, his cell was located well away from the rest. In theory, he could still use the lounge or sit outside at specified times when the other patients were elsewhere. In practice, though, he had lost those privileges long ago. So, he paced. He wasn't sure how long he'd been at it when the cell door opened and Jeremiah Arkham strode in. Bruce continued his approach to the wall, turned, and would have continued back to the door, but the director moved into his path. Without a word, as though he'd been planning to stop anyway, Bruce sat down on the bed, waiting.
"Well," Arkham stated without preamble, "I suppose I should congratulate you. Dr. Murakami has advised me that she's stepping down as your primary therapist. So, how many does this make, now, Mr. Wayne? Nine? Twelve?"
Bruce was silent. Jeremiah could go on like this for awhile, and it was easier just to let him rant. Of course, there were things that he might have liked to say, had he not previously decided on a campaign of passive resistance.
Arkham leaned in closer. "I'll tell you how many it's been, Bruce."
My friends call me 'Bruce'. You are NO friend of mine.
"In the last eleven months, you have gone through no fewer than fourteen of my staff. Even The Joker hasn't approached that record."
That would be because you've never managed to hold on to Joker for anything approaching eleven months.
Jeremiah sighed. "I told you when you first arrived, the more cooperative your behaviour, the easier you would find your stay here. Surely you would agree that your actions have been, ahem, somewhat less than cooperative?"
You seem to be labouring under the misconception that I'm looking for an easy time, here.
He made a show of consulting his clipboard. "Well, Bruce," he feigned dismay, "it would seem I've no choice but to take some disciplinary action."
Try to imagine how little that disturbs me.
"Now let's see. We've already rescinded your lounge privileges…"
I've lost the right to sit on a couch in an empty room and watch an hour of television. I'm devastated.
"…Your yard privileges…"
See above. Substitute 'stone bench' for 'couch', 'yard' for 'empty room', and 'grass grow' for 'hour of television'.
His imagined replies continued in this vein as Jeremiah's voice rose in pitch and volume. His very silence seemed to infuriate the director all the more. Suddenly, his ears pricked up. What had Arkham just said?
"That's right, Bruce," Arkham repeated. "Tomorrow morning you will have another new doctor. If you remain as uncooperative as you have been until now, you will be barred from receiving visitors until such time as I deem fit. The decision rests with you." He spun on his heel and strode out. The door shut behind him.
It hadn't slammed. Bruce had to give him some points for that. The visits, he thought to himself. No.
The security guard who monitored the cell cameras noticed nothing amiss. Had he known what to look for, however, he would have seen fists trembling in the patient's lap, not with fear, but with rage.
The visits, he thought again. Damn him!