Title: One For Every Hour
Author: DC Luder
Summary: Having pushed everyone away, who will be there to pick Batman up when he falls? Alternate ending of Batman 604.
Infringements: All recognizable characters belong to DC Comics, not DC Luder.
Author's Note: I really need to stop hurting Batman. But to be fair, Ed Brubaker started it… Short and sweet, well, sort of.
A/N 2: References made to Bruce Wayne: Murder and Fugitive storylines. Quotes and references made to Batman 604.
"How much easier is self-sacrifice than self-realization?!"
The Smith & Wesson 4006. A semi-automatic handgun with a stainless steel four-inch barrel and an eleven round double column magazine clip. Standard issue for the California Highway Patrol officers and many other enforcement agencies but also a trusty weapon for those who stood up against law and order.
And five of its .400 bullets had just been fired at my chest at point blank range.
A few nights earlier as Alfred sutured my forearm, he suggested I stop torturing myself for what had happened to Vesper. To Sasha…
I was not torturing myself.
I was protecting my city.
Having escaped from Blackgate, I had denounced my role as Bruce Wayne, sending officials on a wild goose chase while forging and elaborate escape plan. As a result, I was able to devout myself entirely to my work as Batman, spending day and night hunting down those who dared to violate Gotham's streets.
As a result, I had taken to donning a more protective version of the Batsuit, going beyond the Kevlar by using body armor plates over my chest, abdomen and lower back. It had been an involuntary safety measure imposed by Alfred who was growing weary of sewing me back into one piece. The plates could stop a .300 Savage rifle bullet traveling upwards of two thousand, seven hundred and fifty thousand feet per second, but it hindered my ability to move and made the Batsuit several pounds heavier.
But to appease Alfred, I wore it.
Earlier that night as I had entered the East End, slowly making my way to Crime Alley, my mind had been filled with thoughts far more worrisome than Alfred's wrath. After escaping prison, I had informed my closest allies, my Family, that Bruce Wayne was no longer part of who I was. He was a man running from the law; I was a man who brought about the law. It had seemed a logical enough decision until Nightwing... Dick had asked if there was no Bruce Wayne that who was he the adopted son of.
Instead of reasoning with him, I had punched him.
Despite denying any of my allies any further explanation, I had gone about my life as Batman without hesitation. There was no need for Bruce Wayne, he only slowed me down, hindered my ability to fight crime with emotional weights. Eventually, Vesper's killer was found, the assassin David Cain hired to ruin Bruce Wayne's reputation. Once in custody, Wayne was cleared of the charges but it left me with a very difficult question.
Was Bruce Wayne still alive?
Needing to find the answer, I knew the easiest way was to make a pilgrimage to where Bruce Wayne had lost all that he once loved: Crime Alley.
Along the way, I made sure any thug I came into contact with remembered why a life of crime in Gotham wasn't worth the consequences. Yet every punch I threw, every blow I delivered, I could not let go of the questions plaguing my mind. My night was made only more difficult by running into Catwoman.
We had shared a long and struggled past, both emerging out of the darkness in order to lead life anew. I, as a masked crime fighter. She, as a masked criminal. Nevertheless, I had never been able to completely categorize her with the rest of the beings that plagued Gotham as she had showed signs of good intention as well as moral reasoning. I found her more and more as an ally rather than as a foe.
She had tagged along as I toured the East End, no doubt making sure I didn't overstay or abuse my welcome into her part of the city. She had even aided me when I had come across a lowlife by the name of Tony "the Turk" Rolyanchik was being held up for not being a big enough lowlife. With a gun aimed at him, we had crashed down on the gaudily dressed goons who a moment earlier had intended to blow out Tony's kneecaps. With Selina disarming and knocking out the less threatening thugs, I found myself dodging in front of the tied up Tony just as the Smith & Wesson fired.
Five consecutive point blank shots to the middle of my chest.
Somehow, with my ribs shattered, I managed to hit my assailant hard enough after the last round to knock out his front teeth.
Selina had instantly been at my side trying to offer support as we made our escape to a nearby rooftop. She had even gone as far as offering to take me to Leslie's but I assured her I was fine even though my chest was on fire and breathing was nearly impossible. The bullets had been stopped, thankfully, but the sheer force of the projectiles had no doubt caused a great amount of damage. As Selina went on as to why she couldn't believe I would risk my life for a criminal, I thought about calling it a night but I knew I had come to the East End for a reason.
I told her it was complicated.
"So, y'know you never did tell me what you were doing in the East End in the first place," she smirked, trying to hide her still present concern.
Doing my best to keep my voice smooth, I replied, "That's sort of complicated, too."
Crouching on the ledge of the brick apartment building, she suggested, " Uh hunh.. Look, if you to see me, you don't have to make up excuses…"
I lied, "Okay, you caught me."
Never one to be fooled, she voiced her doubt about that and then decided to head out on her own. Alone again, I continued my trek to Crime Alley, my thoughts torn between why I was there and the increasingly growing pain in my chest. Perhaps I would drop by Leslie's…
It wasn't long before the Monarch theatre came into view. It had been recently bought out and updated, it's exterior a fraction of its once former glory but an improvement nonetheless. With dawn approaching, the lights were off and the show time display was dark. But not dark enough for me to miss The Mark of Zorro.
If there was no Bruce Wayne, then who was the boy that had leapt out of the theatre that night, so long ago? Who was the boy that had stabbed the cold night air with an invisible sword, mimicking the craftiness of Diego del la Vega? Who was the boy that had stared down the barrel of a gun before hearing two thunderous cracks shoot through the air?
For so long I had convinced myself that Bruce Wayne had died on the cold streets alongside his parents. But if he had died, than how did Batman live by the ideals that Thomas Wayne had instilled upon his son?
I am Bruce Wayne… I always have been…
I blamed the resolution of who I was for the lightheadedness, just as I blamed the heavy armor plates for limiting my breathing.
Not a moment later, I fell to my knees, my chest tight and my blood craving oxygen. As my breaths grew rapid and shallow, I found myself coughing, dry and hacking but soon I felt warm, wet metal rise in my throat. I tried to stand but my legs gave way again, this time leaving me flat on my back.
Where was Leslie? Just as the night my parents died, there to take care of me, to make everything all right…
I felt strong, but thing fingers pressing at my throat followed by a nervous voice, "Can you hear me?"
I managed to rasp, "Leslie?"
"I told you to let me take you there… Stubborn fool…"
A moment later, I felt an arm wrap around my back and then an unbearable pain as I was lifted into a sitting position. It took a moment to realize that the sweet aroma of perfume and leather was that of Catwoman. She must have followed me…
I was fine, though, Kevlar and the armor held…
"I'm going to need your help, there's no way I can carry you…"
Somehow, I was on my feet again and Selina's voice was in my ear, "Grief, you need to go on a diet…"
It took every fiber of my being to keep moving, leaning on Selina for support. We navigated across the rooftop to a fire escape before she allowed me to sit once more.
"I'm fine…" I choked.
"Right. It's normal to pant and cough up blood. Please tell me you have the remote control car with you?"
After nodded, I fumbled at my utility belt, taking far too long to find the remote device to call the Batmobile. It was over thirty blocks away and would take a few minutes to arrive.
Hopefully I could make it until then.
Trying to divert my attention from the pain, I did my best to focus on controlling my breathing by taking slower breaths. I had been so intently focused that I had missed Selina asking me a question.
She set her hand on my shoulder, "Batman, can you hear me?"
I nodded slightly, "What?"
"I asked if there was… something I could do?" After shaking my head, she spoke again, "Of course, you're fine. How silly of me."
"No... Selina… It's… Nothing you can do…"
The worry on her face was still evident, despite the mask and goggles of her disguise and my words did little to erase it.
I suggested we start down, knowing all too well how difficult it was going to be. I had suffered a magnitude of torso injuries over the years and had already diagnosed myself with a pneumothorax. With crushed ribs, no doubt a splinter had pierced the lung wall, allowing air to build up in the chest cavity. Every breath I took was agony because every breath allowed more air to escape, compressing the leaking organ. A chest tube and oxygen mask would be a quick fix but it would be some time before my ribs would stop crunching.
Miraculously, we made our way down to the paved alleyway without having to stop. Partially because I didn't want to waste time and risk being spotted in such a poor condition but also because I was uncertain if I could get back up if I rested again. Not a moment later, the car pulled up, pausing mere inches from me. After activating the automatic door, I allowed Selina to help me into the driver's seat. I was about to thank her when she leapt into the passenger seat.
"Selina… I… can…"
Setting the Mobile back to pilot, I had it navigate the way to the Free Clinic. I would have called in to Oracle to have her contact Alfred had I been alone or if Oracle and I had been on good terms. Instead I motioned for Selina to use a telephone in the console to call ahead to Leslie's. She made a sly comment about not being my secretary but I was unable to growl back a response.
The ride, although mere blocks, lasted an eternity. I vaguely remembered the Mobile's door opening to Leslie's concerned face, her rapid fire questions going in one ear and out the other. Somehow, I managed to get out of the car and onto a gurney before finally giving into unconsciousness; thinking somewhere in my mind that Leslie was there and that everything was fine.
The next time my eyes opened, I was in a dimly lit exam room with the warmth of morphine in my veins driving out any nuance of pain. My vision not quite clear, I was aware of the chest tube inserted into my torso just under my armpit and a canula under my nose offering my battered from pure oxygen. In addition, I felt the pressure of an IV catheter inserted on the top of my left hand.
And very still and very warm fingers grasping my right hand.
After letting my eyes adjust, I spotted Selina's form in a chair adjacent to the gurney. She had removed her mask and goggles and had unzipped her leather jacket to reveal a form fitting tank top. No body armor plates…
Not trusting the sensation of my skin, I reached up with my left hand, relieved to feel that my cowl was in place. Generally, when I stumbled into the clinic for Leslie's help, I was alone and she was quick to strip the mask from my face. She had never given into my plan to erase Bruce Wayne form my life, neither after Vesper's death nor before. She only referred to me as Batman in public but when I was in her sole presence, she always called me Bruce.
… Hello, Bruce, my name is Leslie… Everything's going to be all right…
"He lives," Leslie's voice made its way to my ears.
I managed to locate her as she approached the gurney, already removing the stethoscope that practically lived around her neck. As she went about listening to the various lobes of my lungs, I croaked, "What... Hap…"
"Your left lung collapsed… When I hooked you up to a monitor you barely had a pulse let alone an oxygen level." Before I could say anything she continued, "I had to crack your chest, although it was practically open already. Your sternum is broken in five places, half of your ribs are shattered… Pulled half of a dozen fragments from your lung tissue. When the swelling goes down and your lung stays aerated I'm putting you in a body cast."
She shook her head as she replaced the instrument around the back of her neck, "If Selina hadn't followed you, you would have suffocated. No one in the world would have gotten to you in time, not even me."
I paused before asking, "How long?"
"You've been out for almost fourteen hours."
I shook my head, "How long... for the cast?"
"Six to eight weeks, longer if you re-break anything."
We both went quiet as the sleeping form in the room suddenly stirred. Her hand retreated from mine as she stretched her arms and back, "Maybe I should have taken you up on that guest room, Leslie."
"It's still yours if you'd like."
Selina was about to reply when she suddenly realized my eyes were open, "Oh…"
I blinked slowly before offering a weak smirk.
Whatever rest Selina had managed seemed to have done her little good if any. Dark circles bordered her eyes and her face screamed exhaustion. No doubt a similar look graced my own features, in addition to heavy stubble.
Before either of us could speak to one another, Leslie announced she was going to find me a neubulizer to help promote good airflow. After the door closed behind her, Selina looked down at her lap and said, "Had me scared there for a minute." I nodded slightly but was unsure if she had noticed. I waited for her to continue, "Figured you'd never come back to the East End for another rooftop date…"
Another slight smirk managed to form on my lips just in time for her to look up. After clearing my throat, I spoke, "Wasn't a date."
"Then why were you in the East End? Aside from my irresistible companionship and your evident death wish."
Without thinking it through, I answered her, "Lately, I've had trouble… understanding who I am… beneath this mask. I needed to go back… to the beginning."
"The heart of darkness... of this whole city."
She nodded, her reply barely above a whisper, "Crime Alley."
"I've grown to think that… I was nothing more than this…" I gestured faintly to the cowl, "But now I know… who I am and… Why I am."
"Near death experiences will do that to you. Trust me." Despite the fact that she smiled, I was unable to do the same. She finally sighed, her hand reaching out to rest upon mine once more, "Listen, I don't want this to turn into a Lifetime movie or anything but… I meant it. I was pretty scared."
I unintentionally hesitated, shocked at how nice her hand on mine felt. Finally, I offered, "I'm sorry."
"You're sorry? For what, getting shot at five times? I should be apologizing, I should have knocked your ass out cold and dragged you to Leslie the first raspy breath you took." I suddenly realized she was blaming herself, torturing herself for what had happened to me.
I couldn't help but hear my thoughts echoing through my head in Alfred's voice.
"I'm sorry… for scaring you."
She squeezed my hand briefly before letting go, "Well, sorry isn't going to cut it. You made me cry like an eleven-year-old girl whose cat was hit by a car… You owe me… And I expect to be paid by the hour…" She zipped up her jacket and glanced at the door.
"What do you have... in mind?" I asked as she slowly stood.
There was a long silence before I felt her weight on the side of the gurney. She paused before leaning in, gently placing her lips on mine. Before I could have acted, she sat up again and answered, "Follow the doctor's orders. Then we'll talk about my terms."
Selina had been gone for nearly twenty minutes before Leslie returned to my bedside. As she set up the nebulizer, she said something that Alfred was on his way back from Wayne Manor and that I would be returning home with him. When I didn't respond, she asked, "Tell me you didn't send her away."
I shook my head slowly, "No… She… She's not done… with me yet."
While waiting for Alfred, I suffered through the respiratory therapy before managing to convince Leslie to let me use a telephone. I had a fourteen yellow lilies sent to Selina Kyle's apartment with a personalized message, of which was billed to a private credit card I used for emergency purchases that could not be associated to Bruce Wayne.
S: One for every hour. B