I don't want to be alone
That's all in the past
This world's waited long enough
I've come home at last!
And this time will be bigger
And brighter than we knew it
So watch me fly, we all know I can do it...
Could I stop my hand from shaking?
Has there ever been a moment
With so much to live for?
Don Black and Christopher Hampton, "As If We Never Said Goodbye"
Thanks to Will, Char, Kathy and Debbie for the beta!
"As If We Never Said Goodbye" lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton. From the Sunset Boulevard soundtrack (Decca Broadway: 1993). "There's A World Out There" lyrics by Kent Blazy and Skip Ewing. Recorded by Paul Brandt on That's The Truth (Wea International: 1999).
Chapter 16: So Much To Live For
All in all, at first glance, Bruce didn't see an appreciable difference between the rehab center and the psych ward. The room was a bit larger. There were a few more guards in evidence in the corridors, in addition to the one seated outside his room—the one assigned to accompany him personally on the ward. On the whole, though, the ward didn't feel like a maximum-security zone. Of course, once he pushed aside the window shade and faced the bulletproof, chicken-wire windows, the reality was only too obvious…
Someone knocked on the door. Bruce raised an eyebrow at that. After a moment, the knock sounded again. Odd. Usually, even if someone deigned to announce their presence, the knock was less a request for entry than an indication that someone was on their way in. It had been a long time since someone had actually implied that Bruce had some say in the matter.
"Come in?" He said finally.
The door opened to admit Alex Morgenstern. "How are you?" The psychiatrist asked.
Bruce couldn't quite stop the smile he felt forming on his lips. "Better," he replied simply. After a moment's hesitation, he added, "I appreciate your willingness to speak on my behalf at the hearing."
Alex looked pensive. "That's the main reason I wanted to see you ahead of time," he said. "I'll be telling this to your lawyer after I leave here, but thought I owed it to you to come and explain my position first."
That sounded decidedly less than encouraging. "Your… position," he repeated, keeping his voice level.
"How are you feeling about the proceedings?"
Alex sighed. "A long time ago, I asked you whether, if I could sign your release papers on the spot, you'd want to leave. Back then, I think we both knew the answer. If, on the other hand, I asked you the same question today, how would you respond?"
Bruce hesitated. "I want to leave," he said. "I do. But not if doing so at this time is premature."
Alex nodded. "Well, that's fair. I suppose that if you're considering that possibility, it would be accurate to say you have some doubts?"
His eyes narrowed. "Dr. Morgenstern, what are you trying to tell me?" As if he didn't know. His instincts were dead-on. This was happening too soon, no matter what Rae had intimated. Somehow, he felt a small surge of satisfaction at the realization that his analysis was correct. Of course it was too soon—that was why he was having these doubts: deep down, he knew he wasn't ready.
The psychiatrist cleared his throat. "Well, first of all, as you know, Bruce, there are several recommendations that I can make. Please keep in mind that the judge is under no obligation whatsoever to act on them."
"Except that you're being asked to speak as an expert in my case."
Alex nodded. "There is that, I suppose. Very well. First, I can recommend that you remain as an inpatient, either here or in Arkham once the place is rebuilt. Second, I can ask that psychiatric care be terminated entirely." He shook his head, but he was smiling gently. "I don't think that either possibility is in your best interests at this time."
Unconsciously, Bruce leaned forward, curious.
"The recommendation that I'm planning to make is that you continue to undergo mandatory psychiatric counseling as an outpatient. Naturally, I'm more than willing to continue as your primary therapist, but if there's another qualified person with whom you'd be more comfortable, I'd be happy to stand aside, with the court's approval…"
Bruce was already shaking his head. "That won't be necessary, Doctor," he said. "I'm… satisfied with the arrangement." His eyebrows lifted. "You said 'first of all'."
Alex nodded. For the first time since Bruce had met him, he seemed nervous. "I've tried," he began, "to level with you whenever and wherever possible." He hesitated.
After a long pause, Bruce frowned. "Doctor?"
"Forgive me. I've been meaning to tell you this for some time now. I don't enjoy subterfuge, although sometimes it's necessary." He looked away. "In order for me to determine the best approach to take, when your case was initially assigned to me, it was necessary for me to ascertain how… aware of your circumstances you were."
Bruce nodded his understanding, though his expression remained perplexed.
"I had to know," Alex continued, "whether your indifference to your surroundings was genuine. So… when Dr. Arkham asked how I intended to approach your case, I requested his assistance."
Wait just one minute… Bruce leaned forward, frowning again. "His… assistance?"
Alex's voice was gentle but unrelenting. "Bruce, it was my suggestion that Dr. Arkham threaten to revoke your privilege of receiving visits."
At Bruce's furious expression, Alex continued. "Whether you choose to believe me or not, I didn't plan on suspending it indefinitely. It was essential for me to know whether your withdrawal was so complete that the visits really didn't matter, or whether you were putting on an act." The psychiatrist's jaw worked as he chewed on the inside of his lower lip.
Bruce turned away. "Congratulations, Dr. Morgenstern. Your experiment was successful. Leave."
Bruce waited for Alex's retreating footfalls and for the door to close before he turned back again. How dared he? Bruce's mind was reeling. How could Alex have been so underhanded? Their entire working relationship had been built on a foundation of deceit. Had he known this, he would never have let his guard down, never have opened up…
And he would probably still be sitting like a lump in Arkham. Or in solitary in Blackgate, as the case might be.
He brought his hand down hard on the laminated wooden headrest. He wanted to be furious. He wanted to give full vent to his feelings at this betrayal, but something stayed him. He pondered. He wanted to be furious—but he wasn't.
"It was necessary for me to ascertain how aware of your circumstances you were."
Bruce nodded slowly. With or without the costume, he was a detective, a scientist, and a student of human nature. While he wasn't formally trained as a therapist, he was somewhat knowledgeable on the subject of psychology. Alex had respected that. And, examining the situation as a psychologist might… Bruce was forced to admit that he probably would have done as Alex had.
He recalled a time when he had drawn out his comrades in the League, encouraging them to talk about their fears and failings, acted the confidant—when all the while, he'd been taking notes and devising protocols to use against them, should their allegiances shift.
He winced. He'd done exactly the same thing and for worse reasons. He'd manipulated people who had accepted him as a friend and colleague, all the while intent on formulating ways to tear them down. Alex had played him, true… but it had been with the aim of building him up.
Bruce took a deep breath, lifted the pillow off of his bed and set it on the floor. Then he sat down cross-legged upon it, closed his eyes lightly, stilled his body, and began an elementary meditation technique to order his thoughts. An image formed in his mind: a large rough-hewn piece of granite. As he let his thoughts slowly focus, he visualized a pickaxe chipping away at the block. Stone cracked and fell, bit by bit, piece by piece as a sculpture began to take form.
Sometimes… a sharp blow may be the only way to allow an object to reach its potential.
He pondered that for awhile. His anger was still present, but it had receded to a more manageable level. He did not like being played. He was irritated that it hadn't even occurred to him that Alex might have been behind Jeremiah's threats. He'd let his personal feelings for the administrator blind him to other possibilities. Bruce winced. His reasoning had been sloppy… slipshod even. And that probably bothered him more than the fact that he'd been manipulated. Bruce felt himself relax a bit more, though he continued to reflect fully on the matter for an additional several minutes before he arose refreshed.
It was another two days before Alex returned. Bruce greeted him civilly enough, and the doctor's relief was apparent.
Bruce smiled. "You thought that I would see your… revelations as a betrayal."
"It crossed my mind." Alex's expression was serious. "You do realize what the hearing will entail, right? That you'll need to be present while we—myself, your lawyer, and the DA… discuss the particulars of your case in open court."
The smile fell away. "Yes."
Alex shook his head sadly. "I'd personally prefer it if you had the opportunity to be elsewhere while that part of the hearing transpires, but—"
Bruce rested his chin on his knuckles. "I don't have the option, so there's nothing to discuss," he said tersely. A thought struck him. "You'll have to discuss your methodology on the witness stand, of course." His eyes met Alex's without blinking. "That's why you decided to come clean about your… means of ensuring my participation."
The psychiatrist nodded. "That's part of it. The timing matters. Had you known earlier about the part I played in helping you come back from where you were, I doubt that you would have been willing to work with me as quickly. However, I believed then—and I still do now—that you have the right to know the entire truth before it comes out at the hearing."
"Do I?" Bruce demanded. "Or are there other things you've kept from me?"
Alex flinched. "That was the big one. I've tried to level with you as much as possible, but I'm not always cognizant of my underlying motives." He steepled his fingers. "I wish I could give you a better answer than 'I don't believe so', but I haven't lied to you yet and don't plan to start."
That much was true. Bruce's head dropped, almost imperceptibly. "Thank you for your candor." He sat up straighter. "I can do this."
Alex nodded. "Bruce, before we got sidetracked the other day, I know you were experiencing some apprehension about the hearing." He watched the other man's reaction carefully as he continued. "In case you were wondering, it's normal. We've spent the better part of a year working toward this goal. We've built it up as the object to strive for. And now, it's practically upon us." He smiled. "To be honest, I'd be somewhat surprised if you weren't a little nervous." He shook his head, still smiling. "It doesn't mean we're rushing to set this up before you're able to deal with the outcome. It means you're nervous. Nothing less, nothing more."
Bruce nodded back.
He found himself reflecting on Alex's words with increasing frequency as the date of the hearing drew closer. And then, quite suddenly, there was only one day to go.
As soon as work was over, Dick headed for the hospital. As he made a beeline for the elevators, a set of doors slid open, and Selina emerged.
"Dick, hello!" She called over to him. "Are you just on your way up?"
He nodded and approached her rapidly. "How's he doing?"
She sighed ruefully. "Well enough to act like he's not worried about tomorrow. Worried enough that it's obvious he's putting on an act." She smiled. "At least everyone else is up there. I have to hustle. Karon's watching Helena, but she's got plans for later this evening, and I promised I'd be back early so she'd have time to get ready."
Her smile fell away. "He asked me not to bring her tomorrow. Said if there was the slightest chance that she was going retain any memories of the hearing, he didn't want her to see him in chains."
Dick winced. He'd been livid when Rae had brought up that particular detail about the hearing. It didn't matter that restraints were a standard security precaution at this sort of proceeding, and that it had nothing to do with it being Batman at the defense table. Nobody was singling Bruce out for special security measures, but that didn't make them any less galling.
She rolled her eyes in exasperation. "Do you remember anything from when you were fifteen months old? I know I don't. But he still thinks there's a possibility. Arrgh! If I didn't love him so much, I think I'd…" She let her voice trail off.
"I offered to hide a lock pick in the suit he'll be wearing," she said candidly. "Not that I think he should use it, but it occurred to me that, maybe, just knowing it was there would make the situation easier to take. He turned me down, though."
"Oh?" Dick smiled uncertainly.
"Right," she said. "I get where he's coming from. If they found the tool on him at this point, they'd probably lock him back up and bury the key. I don't blame him for not wanting to risk it. But, really, that means he's pinning everything on the hearing. I've never known him to not have some sort of backup."
Dick forced himself to smile. "Who says he doesn't?" For all he knew, it was the truth.
Bruce raised an eyebrow in greeting as Dick came in. "Everyone seems to think I need the support," he said dryly, gesturing toward the other occupants of the room.
The younger man grinned. "I would have been here sooner, but with traffic and all, well… So…"
"Please, don't tell me that 'tomorrow's the big day'," Bruce said. "If I weren't already aware of it, your combined presence here would be something of an indicator."
"Sorry." His expression turned serious. "And I'm sorry about the judge's ruling."
For a moment Bruce frowned in confusion. Then, realization dawned. "In the eyes of the law," he said, "my situation is no different than it would be were I the Joker. Or the Mad Hatter. From that perspective, it's only reasonable that I attend the proceedings in shackles."
He sighed, almost imperceptibly. Cass caught the action, and stretched out her hand toward his shoulder. Bruce shied away, shaking his head. "Unnecessary. Thank you, though."
Her hand dropped back to her side. "Okay," she said, "but…"
Bruce looked around the room, from Dick to Jim to Barbara to Cass to Tim and then back to Dick again. "I know," he said quietly. "You're all here for me. Whether I ask you to be or not." His voice fell to a whisper. "Whether I deserve it, or not. Whether I… show you I appreciate it…" and there was a lump in his throat as he forced himself to finish the sentence, "or n-not." He held up a hand as Dick took a step forward. "No. Wait." He took a deep breath, and then another. "I'm alright," he said, when he could trust his voice to remain steady. He forced a smile. "Really."
They nodded. "We know that already." Jim grinned. "Tomorrow, a few more people get to know it too."
There was an awkward pause.
"Well," Barbara said finally, "even though it's not really late yet, you probably should try to get some extra sleep." Impulsively, she leaned over and gave him a quick peck on the cheek. "I know it's a tall order, but try."
Bruce nodded. "Good point. I'll see you tomorrow, then," he said. "And… thanks."
Bruce leaned back against the padded leather chair and closed his eyes. The courtroom smelled faintly of disinfectant and lemon furniture polish, intermingled with perspiration, after-shave, cologne, and freshly-brewed coffee.
In the background, over the buzz of voices, he could hear the faint hum of the air conditioner. Footsteps padded down the worn carpeting. Now and then, he noted a creak as someone slid heavily into a seat.
He took a deep breath and tried to relax. A faint clinking jerked him abruptly out of his reverie. He glanced down at his hands. The cuffs on his wrists were partially obscured by his suit-jacket, and the short chain that linked them was nearly undetectable when he clasped his fingers together. All he had to do was look past his wrists however, to see the long chain that connected the shackles on his ankles to the handcuffs. Several links of chain extended past the cuffs, and secured them to the sturdy D-ring attached to the leather transport belt around his waist.
He sat up straighter, trying to find a position for his hands that he could maintain comfortably without feeling—or hearing—the restraints.
At his side, Rae leaned over. "How are you holding up?"
He affected a smile. "Never better." He'd said something similar to her several years ago, when she had represented him after Vesper Fairchild's murder. The difference was that he'd sounded a lot more convincing back then.
"It won't be long now," she said. "Just remember: we're trying to prove that you've been making some headway with your control issues." There was a hint of steel in her eyes that belied her cheerful expression. "Don't sabotage me." Her smile fell away. "Oh, why is she doing this?" Rae groaned softly.
"What?" Bruce asked.
"Nothing." She hesitated. "You see that woman and boy who just came in… sitting on the right, middle of the fourth row? She's wearing a black two-piece suit; the kid's in black pinstripes and a tie?"
Bruce looked behind him quickly at the spectators already present. His gaze lingered for a moment on the couple that Rae had pointed out. They were staring at him, the boy with curiosity, the woman with unveiled hostility. He looked quickly past them to where his family was seated. Dick waved. Bruce smiled back.
He looked at Rae. "Who are they?"
"Sharon Ryerson and her son, Joel. Her husband was Paul Ryerson."
Bruce recognized the name. Sergeant Ryerson had been one of the twenty-eight police officers who had lost their lives during the mob war that had also taken Stephanie Brown. He winced. "Under the circumstances, is there a reason I should be concerned?"
"Not really," she answered. "This isn't a sentencing hearing, after all. I just think she's setting herself up for a lot of unnecessary aggravation by being at these proceedings. Any statement she could give would have no bearing on your case." Rae's tone was serious. "It's all hanging on what your doctor has to say, and how well he holds up under the State's cross."
The bailiff cleared his throat. "All rise."
The chain clanked as he stood. Bruce clenched his teeth.
Court was in session.
"Would you please state your full name and professional address for the record?
"Alexander Herschel Morgenstern. My office is currently located at 1284 Grand Avenue in Midtown."
"And your profession?"
"I'm a clinical psychiatrist with a concentration in abnormal psychiatry."
"Is Grand Avenue your only professional address?"
Alex flexed his fingers. "For the moment."
One of Rae's eyebrows arched. "Can you elaborate please, Doctor?"
"I'd be happy to," Alex smiled at her. "I'm also a staff psychiatrist at the Elizabeth Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane. While I remain affiliated with the Asylum, as recent events have forced it to temporarily shut down, I can't honestly claim to maintain a professional address there."
Rae nodded. "How many years have you been practicing psychiatry?"
"All of them at Arkham Asylum?"
Alex shook his head. "No, I did a one-year internship at the Asylum during my studies at Gotham State University Medical College. Following graduation, I maintained an affiliation with Rabe Memorial in Bludhaven for three years. I've been on staff at Arkham for the last nine."
Rae walked to the witness stand and handed a document to her witness. "Doctor, I'm showing you what has been marked as Defendant's exhibit number three for identification purposes. Can you identify this document?"
Alex nodded. "Yes, this is my curriculum vitae."
Rae smiled. "Thank you, Dr. Mogenstern. Your honor," she started as she approached the bench, "I would like to introduce the curriculum vitae of Dr. Morgenstern as Defendant's three."
"Admitted," the judge said, nodding in turn.
Rae smiled and continued. "Thank you, Your Honor. I tender Dr. Morgenstern as an expert in the field of clinical psychiatry with a concentration in abnormal psychiatry."
The judge turned to the DA. "Any objections?" He asked.
Rae turned back to face Alex. "Bruce Wayne is currently one of your patients, is that correct?" At Alex's confirmation, she took a step closer to the witness stand. "Can you tell the court something of Mr. Wayne's mental state at the time that you became his therapist?"
Observing the back-and-forth, Bruce felt himself relax a bit more. As Rae continued her questioning, Alex seemed completely at ease with the proceedings. Of course, the cynical part of him had to point out that things might look a bit different when it was the State's turn to present.
Rae took a few steps away from the witness stand and then doubled back. "Now, Doctor, according to the report I'm holding, on the afternoon of November fourth, Mr. Wayne escaped from Arkham Asylum, returning several hours later. Is that accurate?"
"Yes, I've read that report," Alex confirmed. "I wasn't present at the time, however."
She frowned. "In your professional opinion, would you consider that to have been a setback in Mr. Wayne's treatment?"
"Not at all," Alex said emphatically.
"And why is that?" Rae asked.
Bruce nodded to himself. They'd gone over this before, all three of them, and they'd come to the conclusion that it was better to bring up the escape during the initial testimony. If they didn't get it out in the open at the start, the DA would be sure to do so on cross-examination.
Alex leaned forward. "As I've just mentioned, at the time that Mr. Wayne was remanded to Arkham, he was laboring under the conviction that the placement was no less than he deserved. As such, he had no interest in evading or—or ameliorating his circumstances. We were working at cross-purposes: he believed that Arkham was a fitting penalty for his errors, and as such, must be endured. On the other hand, the goal of every doctor on the asylum's roster was to work toward his eventual release. Naturally, he balked." His expression turned serious. "A major part of our work together has been to help Mr. Wayne realize that Arkham was a means to an end, and not an end in and of itself. Now, while I can scarcely condone his decision to break loose, I should point out that, over the preceding months, Mr. Wayne and I had built up a comfortable rapport. Due to a prior contractual obligation, I was required to take a temporary absence from the asylum…"
Despite the hours he'd spent with Rae, preparing himself to hear this testimony, Bruce felt his face grow warm. He wasn't proud of his earlier actions, and it infuriated him that they were about to be discussed in open court. There was going to be a transcript. For a fleeting instant, he wondered whether it would be possible to call a halt to the proceedings and just return to the psych ward. The moment passed.
"Thank you, Doctor. "
Bruce blinked. His mind had just been wandering. That wasn't good—he did have more than a passing interest in what was taking place, after all. He focused on her next question.
"How would you interpret Mr. Wayne's mental state at that point?"
"Well," Alex replied, "we need to look at the big picture. Many of Mr. Wayne's issues stem from a drive to command and control his environment. This has been evident from his resistance to earlier psychotherapy sessions and from his refusal to work within the system to secure his release. Essentially, not playing by 'our' rules provided him a measure of control."
Rae nodded. "But you were trying to change that."
"Gradually, and with Mr. Wayne's understanding and cooperation at every stage. Initially, we…"
As Alex continued to relate what had transpired during their sessions, Bruce fought the urge to storm out of the courtroom, clanking shackles and all. Or to stand up and shout. Or do something—anything—to end this torment. All the planning and preparation in the world couldn't alleviate his mortification at hearing himself picked apart in this manner. He checked himself. As a youth, he'd willingly subjected himself to physical and mental torture in order to strengthen his resolve. This was the same idea—it was simply another sort of discomfort. He closed his eyes and summoned a basic meditation technique. He could endure this, if only as a means to an end.
"Another symptom of Mr. Wayne's condition," Alex continued, "is an almost pathological fear of asking for help. Commanding it isn't a problem, but asking implies weakness… or lack. In the past, the likelihood of his asking for assistance was almost always inversely proportional to his need: the weaker his actual condition, the greater the need to conceal it." Alex smiled. "This time was different." He leaned forward. "This time, Mr. Wayne recognized he still required psychiatric help. And once he came to this realization, he asked for help. He turned himself over to a person whom he trusted to return him to Arkham's care."
One could have heard a gas pellet hiss in the quiet courtroom as Rae continued. "Doctor Morgenstern, since my client's voluntary return to Arkham, how would you characterize his behavior?"
Alex smiled. "Positive. That's not to say that there haven't been setbacks or touchy subjects, but even when the topic is painful, he's been making a genuine effort."
"In your expert opinion, what course of treatment would best serve my client's needs at the present time?"
"Well," Alex said, "while there's no question in my mind that Mr. Wayne still requires psychiatric care—in my professional opinion, his needs can no longer be adequately met in an institutional setting." Looking directly at the judge, he concluded: "My recommendation would be that Mr. Wayne be seen by a qualified mental health professional in an outpatient setting for a period of not less than six months."
Rae smiled. "Thank you, Doctor. I have no further questions."
The judge straightened his posture. "Ms. Boudreau, your witness."
Fran Boudreau took a deep breath and reminded herself again why she was doing this. At one time, she had held the man currently seated at the defense table in high regard. Remembering their past working relationship, she still did. She couldn't help it. But if Bruce Wayne was a danger to society today, then, respect or no respect, it was her duty to see to it that he remained in a secure facility.
"Dr. Morgenstern," she said, "you testified a few moments ago that you considered Mr. Wayne fit to be released."
"Provided he continues therapy as an outpatient, that's correct."
Boudreau picked up a sheaf of papers. "Do you recognize this, Doctor?"
Alex reached for it. "Yes, of course. Those are my notes."
"On your sessions with Mr. Wayne."
She turned to the judge. "Your Honor, may I ask that the material be marked as an exhibit in this case?"
The clerk made the notation. Boudreau continued. "Would you turn to your notes on October 9th, please, Doctor?"
The courtroom was silent, save for the sound of rustling pages. After Alex looked up, Boudreau asked him to read aloud a passage that she had highlighted.
Alex shot an apologetic look in Bruce's direction. "The patient related that chief among his regrets was that in his desire to keep innocents safe from harm, he found himself paradoxically compelled to thrust them into harm's way."
"Is this in reference to the children who fought by his side?"
Alex nodded. "It is."
Bruce fought to maintain his composure as Alex complied. That had been the day that he'd told Alex about Two-Face beating Dick within an inch of his life. He'd nearly given up on the idea of a partner, then, although it wasn't until over a decade later that he'd finally followed through on that impulse. Joker had squeezed off one gunshot too many. And yet, barely three months later, he'd found himself in Crime Alley… and he'd found a fourteen-year-old boy in the act of stealing his tires…
"And less than a year after that, the Joker attacked that boy with a crowbar and left him to die, whether of his injuries or in the subsequent explosion was never determined." Boudreau kept her tone sympathetic, and allowed the facts to speak for themselves.
Bruce fought the urge to turn and see Tim's reaction as Boudreau continued to read. She'd reached the point in Alex's notes that described the wedge that the Robin costume had driven between the youth and his father. Bruce had hated putting the youth in a position where he'd had to dissemble about his whereabouts, and conceal or lie about his injuries. He had burdened a thirteen-year-old boy with responsibilities that would have weighed heavily on a man twice his age. Tim had been willing, but that wasn't the point. A minor could not make this kind of decision on his own.
He forced himself to appear calm. He knew that doctor-patient privilege held only limited application in hearings such as this. He'd sat in on enough of them as a spectator in earlier times. Why had he thought that his own records would remain confidential? And of course, the spectators here today were hanging on every word spoken. He gritted his teeth and tried to ignore the murmuring behind him.
"If I had never taken him in," Alex continued, "would the boy's father be alive today? It's possible—"
"Objection!" Rae called. "Relevance?"
Boudreau faced the judge. "Your Honor, this line of questioning is necessary to impeach the doctor's testimony."
Boudreau nodded. "Thank you." She turned back to the witness stand. "Dr. Morgenstern, according to what you've read out here today, Mr. Wayne has recklessly endangered the lives of three… young… boys. Minor children. And he knowingly and recklessly pushed them into danger night after night. One died, in fact. And despite Mr. Wayne's obvious, and I freely grant, genuine remorse, it wasn't long before he found another eager candidate for the costume. Dr. Morgenstern, can you assure this court that, if released, Mr. Wayne won't seek out another child to train?"
Bruce winced. He should have let Selina slip him the lock pick. No… no, he might have used it. That would have only made matters worse. Marginally.
Alex leaned forward. "As I'd indicated before, Mr. Wayne came to Arkham suffering from a deep-seated need to control, coupled with an aversion to asking for help. I think it's extremely telling that he's at his best when training youngsters, particularly when they're at an age less likely to question authority and more likely to follow his orders without challenge."
"Dr. Morgenstern, yes or no?"
"It's not that simple, Ms. Boudreau," Alex said. "What we've been working on together, he and I, is addressing and resolving his control issues. I do find it encouraging that when Mr. Wayne fled Arkham that night, he did not, in fact, seek out one of the young people whom he had trained. Instead, he contacted an individual whom he could trust to act in his best interests; one on whom he could rely not to follow him blindly. He sought out someone whom he respected as an authority figure."
"Your Honor?" Boudreau's irritation was plain.
"Answer the question, Doctor."
Every vestige of humor seemed to vanish from Alex's face. "You're asking me for assurances, Ms. Boudreau. I can assure you that the Bruce Wayne sitting in this room with us now is not the same man he was two years ago. I can assure you that at present, his therapeutic needs can no longer be met in an inpatient setting. And I can assure you that Mr. Wayne has come to a point where he is able to recognize, and to break, destructive patterns."
Boudreau nodded. "But you can't guarantee it, can you?"
Alex frowned. "I can extrapolate from the avail—"
"But you can't guarantee it?"
Boudreau smiled faintly, and let the matter drop. She made a show of consulting her notes. "You were Cosmo Krank's therapist for a number of years as well, were you not?"
Alex nodded. "Yes, I was."
"Krank was released from Arkham… was it three years ago?"
"Four, if memory serves," Alex corrected diffidently.
Fran smiled. "Four. Thank you. And that was based on your recommendation."
Boudreau nodded. "Where is Cosmo Krank, today?"
Alex closed his eyes for a moment.
He opened his eyes again. "I'm sorry. I was just trying to remember that for you." He met her eyes steadily. "At the moment, Cosmo Krank resides in Blackgate prison, cellblock B, in the medium security wing."
"And where was Mr. Krank residing until April twenty-ninth of this year?"
To his credit, Alex didn't shy away. "Cosmo Krank was an inmate at Arkham Asylum."
Boudreau's eyes widened. "Arkham? But, I thought that you'd attested that he was fit for release. Isn't that what you said, Doctor?"
"I have no further questions."
The judge nodded his acknowledgement. "Any redirect?"
Rae rose to her feet. "Yes, Your Honor." She approached the witness stand again.
"Dr. Morgenstern," she began, "You've just testified that Cosmo Krank was returned to Arkham. How long after his initial release was it?"
Alex smiled. "Roughly three years."
"Would you please tell the court the circumstance that brought him back to the asylum?"
"Certainly," Alex replied. "While at Arkham, Krank was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. At the time of his release, he was controlling it with medication. However, over time, Krank built up a tolerance to the drug. When it lost its effectiveness, his old problems returned. And since at that time, he was no longer under court order to receive psychiatric counseling, he did not address the situation properly. At Arkham, Krank was responding well to the new medication prescribed, and we were hoping to start the process for his release within the next month or so."
Rae smiled, as a surprised murmur rippled through the courtroom. "Thank you, Doctor Morgenstern, I've nothing further."
The judge looked up. "Thank you, counselors. Any closing statements?"
Both attorneys shook their heads. "None."
The judge nodded. "Then—"
"Judge Shanahan," a shrill voice called from the spectators' rows, "Judge Shanahan, I'd like to make a statement!"
The woman whom Rae had pointed out earlier, Sharon Ryerson, was out of her seat and struggling to get to the aisle, ignoring the frantic hissing of her teenaged son. "Mom! Mom, sit down!"
Rae gasped, barely able to believe her eyes. She whirled toward Fran and then checked herself as she saw that the opposing counsel was as stunned as she was.
The judge lifted his gaze. "Who…"
Ryerson slapped at her son's hand. "Let go of me!" She snapped. She elbowed her way out of the row of people. "Judge Shanahan," she repeated. "My name is Sharon Ryerson." Her words tumbled out in a rush. "I'm the widow of Sergeant Paul Ryerson. Your Honor, my husband was a good man, a fine officer, and he would still be alive today if not for THAT man—"
"Ms. Ry—" Shanahan tried to interrupt.
"…sitting there. He killed m—"
"He should be shut away," her voice took on a hysterical note, "forever and—"
Despite himself, Bruce started.
Mid-tirade, Ryerson's jaw snapped shut.
"Ms. Ryerson," Shanahan continued in a softer tone, "I understand your loss. But this is not a sentencing hearing, and your statement has no relevance to these proceedings."
She opened her mouth to protest, but the judge continued. "You may return to your seat. If I hear another outburst from you, I will charge you with contempt. If you attempt to approach the bench again, I will charge you with contempt. Is that understood?"
Chastened, she nodded and resumed her place beside her red-faced son.
The judge waited a moment. "Would the defendant please rise?"
Bruce complied. Once more, he tried to ignore the clinking of the chains. Next to him, Rae stood as well. He stole a sidelong glance at her, trying to see whether her expression or her body language in any way indicated how she expected the judge to rule. He couldn't tell. It seemed forever before Judge Shanahan spoke again.
"I've weighed the evidence and I've heard the testimony from both sides. Although I mark the compelling evidence that the defendant has made great strides in psychiatric care…"
Bruce gripped the edge of the table for support. 'Although,' he thought to himself. That didn't sound promising…
"I find that the defense has not been able to prove that Mr. Wayne is no longer mentally ill."
He heard a sharp intake of breath behind him. Dick's? Tim's? Someone—a woman—hissed "No!" He thought it was Cass, but whispering voices all sounded similar.
"However," Shanahan continued, "I do concur with Dr. Morgenstern's recommendation for Assisted Outpatient Treatment for a period of no less than one year."
He froze. Had he just heard…?
That was Tim. He was sure of it.
"If there is one more outburst, I will clear this courtroom."
Rae leaned over to him. "Congratulations. Remember, Bruce, what we discussed."
He nodded. No negotiation. No show of pride or resentment. All he had to do was agree.
Shanahan continued. "Bruce Wayne. Over the next twelve months, you will continue to meet with your therapist as often as he deems necessary. You are to follow all directions and recommendations of the therapist. If you are prescribed any medication, you will take it as directed." His eyebrows drew together. "You will not operate as Batman, nor as any other costumed crimefighter while you are under civil commitment. Failure to comply with any of the directives of your therapist or failure to comply with the orders of the court, you will be returned to inpatient care immediately. Do you understand?"
Bruce squared his shoulders. "Yes, Your Honor." It wasn't lost on him that the judge had doubled the timeframe that Alex had recommended. It wasn't a total victory. Still, it was close enough. He could accept this arrangement. Willingly.
Shanahan cleared his throat. "Defendant is hereby committed to the Gotham City Mental Health Authority for a period of one year as an outpatient. There will be another hearing called to reevaluate at that time. Court is adjourned."
"NO!" Sharon Ryerson struggled through the crowd, charging toward Bruce. "You can't go free! You don't des—let me GO!"
As a deputy from the Sheriff's department clapped a hand on his shoulder, Bruce saw Dick grip the woman's arm, holding her until a bailiff arrived. The deputy gave him a slight tug. "Let's get downstairs and lose that jewelry," he said, indicating the shackles.
Bruce nodded numbly, still trying to process what had just transpired.
"Bruce." Rae clutched his other arm, as she walked alongside him. "Are you okay?"
He wasn't going to leave the building in chains. He wasn't going to walk outside with an ankle monitor. He wasn't going back to the hospital. And, at least today, he wasn't going back to an empty house filled with too many memories. He looked Rae dead in the eye. "Better," he said, as he felt his lips pull up into a smile. "Better than I've been in a long time." His smile broadened. "Thanks."
After that, everything happened quickly. The deputy escorted him downstairs, where another officer removed his shackles. There were papers that had to be signed and stamped. Rae explained the nature of each one. Bruce tried to read them over, but the printed words weren't sinking in. He signed them anyway.
"Ready to face the media?" Rae asked.
Bruce looked at her. "No," he said, deadpan.
She smiled. "Congratulations, Bruce" she said. "You've just unequivocally demonstrated that you're sane." Someone called out a greeting to her and she nodded in response.
Bruce took a deep breath. "Alright," he said, getting up. "Let's go."
Sure enough, when Rae opened the door, and they walked outside, it was to a bombardment of clicking cameras and calls of "Mr. Wayne!" and "Batman, just a few questions?" Bruce ignored them. Behind the media representatives, standing a short distance away, he could see Dick and Cass watching—waiting for him.
He squared his shoulders and took a step forward. Someone shoved a microphone at him, and he looked down into the earnest brown eyes of a woman in her mid-thirties. He knew her. "Mr. Wayne? Is there any statement you'd like to make to our viewers?"
Bruce smiled at her. "Ms. Chen, isn't it?" he asked warmly. Gently but firmly he motioned for her to move the microphone. "No, I've no statement at the present time. Please submit any requests for interviews to my attorneys." Not that he had any intention of granting them.
Someone snapped a photograph. "Just something we can quote?"
Rae spoke up then. "Of course. We're happy with the results of the hearing. Now let the man through."
The crowd parted, but the cameras kept snapping as he made his way toward Cass and Dick.
Dick grinned. "Sorry to pull you away from your adoring public," he smirked. "We could come back…"
Bruce's face froze midway between a smile and a snarl. "Just keep moving," he muttered as he pushed his way past them. He'd gone maybe two steps before Dick clapped a hand on his shoulder.
"Hey, wait up. You don't know where we're parked. Besides, I'm the one with the car keys." He checked himself. "Sorry."
"Don't be." He hesitated. "Dick… thanks for coming."
The younger man blinked. "Bruce, I wouldn't have stayed away today of all days," he said.
"I don't just mean today," Bruce said. He turned to face him. "I… I wouldn't have lasted at Arkham without…" He broke off. "If there was a time—that first year especially—when you wondered whether your visits mattered, they did. I know I made it easy for you to walk away. Thank you for… for not giving up, when you had every reason to. It mattered."
Dick shook his head. "Bruce," he said slowly, "you've got it all wrong. Even if I'd wanted to, I couldn't have given up on you. You never taught me how."
Only the twin realizations that the reporters were still observing them and that any display of emotion now would be sure to air on the six o'clock news allowed Bruce to control himself until they reached the car.
"His performance is better than adequate," Bruce said aloud, as he looked at the scene on the monitors. Eight opponents taken down in less than ninety seconds, and Batman had made it look easy. Two years ago, Bruce thought, that could have been him. Not now, though. Dick had seemed to fly from one assailant to the next, barely conforming to the letter of the law of gravity. Just reviewing the moves he'd witnessed made Bruce's arms and legs feel heavy.
Barbara bristled for a moment, before she realized that coming from Bruce, 'better than adequate' was lavish praise. "He has a good teacher." On the screen before them, Batman fired off a grapnel and took to the night sky. "Do you miss it?" She asked.
Bruce nodded. "And yet… I find it difficult to believe that two years ago… that was me."
She nodded. "I understand." She'd gone through something similar, after seeing Huntress, and later Cass, in the Batgirl suit. There was a difference, though. Even before the shooting, Barbara had retired from the costume. She'd never planned to wear it again. "Do you think," she asked cautiously, "that it might be you again at some point?"
Bruce studied the scene that Dick had just vacated. "I don't know," he admitted. "I wish I did."
He stood up. "I'm heading downstairs. It's been a long day."
Barbara nodded. "Good night," she called after his retreating form.
Bruce didn't answer. Tomorrow, he thought, he would call on Selina. And he needed to sit down with Dick and take a good look at where he stood financially, and what his current status was with WE. And he needed to prepare himself mentally to return to the manor. And Batman? Shanahan might have forbidden Bruce the costume, but even had he not done so, the truth was that it would be months before he would be ready to reclaim the mantle. If, in fact, he still wanted it. And if he did, Bruce reflected, well, he knew something about keeping his activities hidden. In any event, the decision did not need to be made tonight. Tonight, he was free. The hearing was past. Arkham was behind him. The future could wait.
There's a world out there and I wanna be in it
I got a life and I'm gonna live it
Don't tell me the sky's the limit
There's footprints on the moon