A/N: Thank you all for reading and sticking with me and my sporadic updates! Once again I'm beta-less so all errors are entirely mine. Help me edit by reviewing! I especially enjoyed how everyone caught and corrected me on my 'duck' tape mistake last chapter. Thank you! :)
Anyway, hardest chapter to write so far. I knew it was coming, and if you know Gotham Knight you also knew this was coming, but I really really really didn't want to do it.
I'm in a dingy apartment. The room is too dark to see anything, but I can feel the dirt and dust in my lungs. I shrug a heavy weight off my back and drop it to the floor. The window I used to enter the room slaps open again from the wind. The cheap rolling curtain sucks tight against the frame. A tree scratches at the curtain. A storm's coming. Who knows how long this one will last.
I collapse on the bed. Some unknown homeless man noticed me jetting over rooftops to reach my hideout. The sighting could pose a threat. I would have to admit my failure to him. He will not be happy. A new headquarters must be found and readied, the supplies moved, and the outfit informed. No one besides me lasts more than a few days in the outfit anyway. More than enough disposable idiots to go around. Charles Darwin at work. I stretch out and put my feet up. Another good day. I pick up a pad of paper and study a Deterministic Finite State Machine. Unlocking the string taken in by the machine should be simple. I can already feel the problem shifting in the back of my mind. I set the paper down and prepare for sleep to let the answer come to me in dreams. Training the brain to work while sleeping is difficult, but worthwhile in the end.
The curtain rips. Jagged black claws tear the plastic to shreds. A shadow leaps from the window and flies to the bed. I can hear my detached voice scream in terror.
The homeless man. I underestimated the time it takes rumors to spread.
"The envelope," Batman growls menacingly at me. His hand encircles my throat, threatening to cut off my oxygen flow.
"What envelope?" I choke. He knew. How did he know?
"The envelope," Batman repeats, a subtle infliction adding an entire paragraph of wordless threat. I've never seen the Batman angrier. I start to worry he has snapped, and the hand on my throat might actually close.
"In the dresser," I yell, "By the door."
His eyes flick towards the door to confirm my statement. His eyes say a lot more than he does.
"Stay away from Lyn," I whisper, "She's mine. Not yours. Certainly not that brainless clod Bruce Wayne's. Mine."
Batman's eyes focus on me with surprise. Then narrow. The last thing I see is an armored fist.
My fuzzy, shocked mind jolts to action and reorganizes the pieces of the puzzle. Genevieve's precious son assassinated the Russian mob boss, and planned to kill again. Floyd Lawton used me as an excuse to scope the carnival Wednesday night and his next plan involves me again. I shudder.
"Lyn?" an urgent voice whispers in the distance, "Lyn?"
I open my eyes. I can barely distinguish between the container shapes in the glare of the setting sun.
"Teresa?" I croak desperately. Extreme pain sears my side and I clutch my shirt. My hand comes away drenched in blood. The fight with the thugs had reopened the fresh wound and ripped through the bandage.
"Great," I moan, "The second destroyed shirt today." Feeling delirious, I lie down on my opposite side and apply pressure on the cut.
"Lyn!" Teresa exclaims. She appears from around the corner. Her hand grips a knife in a deadly manner, clearly expecting trouble. Seeing me, worry replaces the alert readiness on her face and she rushes forward, "What happened back there? Your zombie mode in the restaurant was terrifying. I thought you were dead."
"Sorry," I say, "That letter. Maroni murdered my father."
"What?" Teresa stares at me in shock and then sees the blood, "Damn, did Lawton do this?" She undoes her sweatshirt from around her waist and passes it to me.
"No, a clown did it," I say while wrapping the sweatshirt tightly to stop the bleeding, "Originally."
"Even un-zombified, you still make no sense," Teresa says.
"Call Alfred," I say and give her my phone.
"Not an ambulance?" Teresa asks, but starts searching through my contacts for Alfred's number immediately.
"What ambulance would brave the narrows at this time of night?" I ask.
"I always thought the EMTs were the only officials able to safely patrol the narrows at night," Teresa comments as the phone rings.
"There was one, but he worked within the narrows and outside official regulations," I explain.
The phone finally picks up.
"Hello?" I hear Alfred's voice faintly through the phone.
"Hi," Teresa blurts hastily, "Lyn and I need to be picked up at the docks in the narrows. She's badly injured and probably needs a hospital."
"Already here," Alfred says, always one step ahead, "Where is she?"
"Uh…" Teresa glances blankly at the containers surrounding us, unmarked except for elaborate graffiti pieces.
"Three horizontal rows straight west from the sidewalk," I quickly recite my mental map, "take a left at the Hello Kitty with fangs, two columns down take a right at DIAMOND, and then another right underneath the cowboy hat."
Teresa relays the information to Alfred. I lean my head against my arm and close my eyes.
I wake up in a cloud. Everything hurts. The pain is bearable, but makes movement an unpleasant sensation. I shift very slightly and bury my head deeper into the nearest fluffy pillow. Pillows surround me on every side, encasing me in a comforting, satin mountain. The events of last night seem years ago.
"Good afternoon, Miss Pearl," Alfred's head floats into my limited line of vision.
"Morning," I mumble, "What happened?" I sit up and accept a cup of tea from him.
"You passed out," Alfred says matter-of-fact, "Teresa found you, called Master Wayne, and we came to your rescue." he smiles and nods towards the opposite corner of the room. I glance over and notice Bruce sprawled in a black armchair, his suit askew and tie half undone, fast asleep.
"Thank you," I say, turning back to Alfred and discovering him gone.
Still drowsy, I concentrate on drinking my tea while using the least amount of muscle movement. Judging from my aching, one would think I attempted Bruce's daily exercise routine instead of the brief tussle I got into last night. If I prop my elbows on my stomach, cup my hands carefully around the mug, and use my neck to tilt the tea enough to take a tiny sip, I manage to avoid straining anything. I had no idea thumb muscles could be sore.
All my careful attempts to stave off pain are destroyed as I jerk forward in surprise, spit the tea out, and start to cough. I glare at Bruce out of the corner of my eye.
"Notice you have plenty of extra ammunition, should you feel the need to throw something at me," he continues with a lazy half smile and gestures to the extra pillows, "I made sure of it myself."
"I think throwing a pillow at you would hurt me more than you at the moment," I complain bitterly.
His smile disappears, "Are you alright?" He moves from the chair to the end of the bed.
"Fine," I say bravely, "Just sore." I smile up at him.
"Last night…," he says, "What happened?"
"I could ask you the same thing," I say, calmly sipping my tea and trying to conceal my racing heart.
"I found Feely," Bruce says.
"Master Wayne?" Alfred interrupts, carrying a tray, "I prepared a little breakfast." He settles the tray down across my lap between Bruce and me.
"You found Feely?" I casually draw the subject of conversation away from me.
Bruce inclines his head, "And the envelope. Inside was a business card, among other things."
"A business card?" I ask.
He hands me the card and picks up the glass of orange juice on Alfred's tray.
"Floyd Lawton," I read aloud, "I have one exactly like this. The number is no good now, thanks to his dad."
"But do you recognize the number?" Bruce asks. He sits on the bed and leans across my legs, watching me intently.
"No," I admit, "But numbers always were my memorizing weakness."
"Ron Marshall contacted that number multiple times from his phone," Bruce reveals, "as well as from an encrypted and cryptographic authenticated internet phone
"Okay," I say, "I'll pretend to understand what that last half meant."
"A phone I picked up at the hotel on Wednesday night called the same number. A phone once owned by the new Russian mob boss," Bruce continues.
"You think this new boss ordered a hit on the old one. And Ron Marshall has ordered a hit on…" I can't finish my sentence.
"Teresa, most likely," Bruce says.
"Why?" I ask, "How could an apartment complex be worth murdering someone over? That doesn't make any sense logically."
"Exactly. We need to learn why Marshall is so invested in this," Bruce says, "Hopefully we can find useful information in the archives."
"We?" I ask with a grin.
"I thought I would help you search," he replies.
"The last time I let you go near a filing cabinet you knocked it over," I retort.
"That one was already broken."
"Slightly off balance, not broken."
"Promise not to make a mess?"
"All right then," I agree, "Except," I glance down at the silk pajama shirt I'm wearing, "What did you do with my clothes?"
"Right," Bruce stands up and looks around, "That was Alfred," he lifts a couple pillows as if fresh laundry would be hiding underneath.
"Bruce Wayne, you're turning red," I accuse.
He halts mid-search and leans over me, his face inches from mine, his cool expression very still as if he's having trouble controlling it, "Let me go find Alfred, and ask him where your clothes are." He smiles and walks to the door.
"Most eligible bachelor in Gotham, embarrassed by the thought of a woman undressing," I tease, "Will wonders never cease?"
"It's been awhile," he says.
"Really?" I ask in half disbelief and half surprise.
He turns to look at me, casts his eyes to the ceiling, and shuts the door behind him on his way out.
I'm initially confident as I stride into Wayne Enterprises with my hand entwined in Bruce's. However, our entrance draws odd, furtive stares from our fellow commuters and my bubble deflates. If my reputation worsens I might end up being labeled with the female equivalent of 'playboy'. Mary's eyes peek above a tabloid and follow us across the lobby. The quote on the cover reads "Sorry Floyd Lawton, you're too blonde to break up Brunet."
"Lyn," she calls out coldly, "A package for Archives." One hand releases her death grip on the tabloid and loftily shoves a large cardboard box across her desk. The tabloid snaps back in front of her face. Hesitantly I walk over, pick up the package, and immediately stagger under the weight. Bruce steps up to catch me and the box before we tip over.
The corner of Mary's tabloid folds back briefly.
"I see you picked the loser," she drawls, sniffing at us disdainfully.
Bruce laughs the unassuming laugh of a man who doesn't recognize an insult when he hears one.
"The number one problem about drinking too much," Bruce jokes lightly, "is you never remember enough to know not to do it again."
The paper corner flicks straight and obscures Mary's reaction. Bruce and I carry the box to the elevator.
"The contents of this box concern me" I comment on the ride down, "Did you order anything for Archives?"
"No," Bruce says, examining the label.
"Maybe Drake then. Mr. Fox was right to warn me about him," I say.
"He's a good kid," Bruce replies, "Lacks direction, but his work in Archives frees your time for more important things." He smiles at me.
"I suppose saving Gotham rates a higher priority than files," I concede.
"I had more entertaining things in mind," Bruce says with mock sincerity.
"Be careful, you might start mixing up your masks," I tease as we get off the elevator.
Drake is mysteriously absent from the front desk. Bruce helps me dump the heavy package on the tabletop and leaves for Applied Sciences.
"I'll send your wayward apprentice in your direction if I see him," he promises before he disappears into the maze.
"Tell him: a lot to learn from the master, the young padewan still has," I reply.
I can hear Bruce's chuckles echoing off the cabinets. Too curious to wait for Drake to return, I flip open a pair of scissors and dig into the tape sealing the box shut. I'm about to dive into the endless layer of packaging peanuts when an ecstatic cry interrupts my concentration.
"It came!" Drake exclaims and brushes me out of the way. He sends Styrofoam flying in his haste to uncover the contents.
"Bruce found you," I observe in amusement.
"Yeah, he said something about Yoda needing me," Drake spares a quick glance at me, "I was a little disappointed when I saw you," he returns to his mystery box and lifts up a black sheet of fabric, "But this is worth the interruption!"
"What is it, exactly?" I ask, unsure if I want the answer or what it might mean for the future of Archives' computer system.
"Nothing work related," Drake says, covering me with the black sheet and digging deeper into the box, "But if my dad found me ordering this I'll never hear the end of it. I'm technically still paying him back for last year's Comic Con costume."
"Comic Con costume?" I stretch out the sheet and realize the shape is more triangle than rectangle.
"Yes," Drake says with relish, pulling out a familiar pointy-eared, black cowl, "What is the point of having a multi-millionaire father if you can't exert that privilege to fund a frivolous cause once a year without his knowledge?"
"You bought a Batman costume," I state in disbelief.
He promptly slips the cowl over his head and smiles back at me, "Of course I bought a Batman costume. I ordered it the minute high resolution reference photos of the vigilante surfaced in the cloud. I'm going to be the first Batman cosplayer to hit the internet. My storm trooper suit was a success last year, so hopefully this will go over twice as well."
He strikes a heroic pose and I ceremoniously drape the black wings over his shoulders.
"Your physique certainly matches the part," I comment, "Though you need to tone down the hero attitude and add more brooding angst."
"True," Drake muses, "Batman is more menacing than gallant. I'll have to practice."
An elevator ping reminds us of our real job.
"Foobar, it's my dad," Drake curses and drags off the cape and cowl. He shoves the costume back into the box and folds over the cardboard lid right before Lucius steps out of the elevator. Drake rests an elbow on the package and both of us contrive a casual posture.
"Drake, Lyn," Lucius inclines his head, a twinkle in his eye, "New shipment?"
"More file folders," I explain automatically, "Can never have too many file folders," I give the giant box a once-over, "Now I'm set for the next decade."
"How very farsighted of you," Lucius says. His eyes flick between Drake and I knowingly and he goes on his way to Applied Sciences.
Drake lets out the breath he had been holding, "My father never fails to give off the impression he knows everything, even your thoughts. Sometimes I worry the impression is reality, but then I recall he remains unaware I successfully hacked into his computer when I was 15 trying to read my Christmas present list, and I feel more secure in my life."
"Take pictures at the comic con and we're even for the lie," I tell him.
"I don't know how I'm going to be able to wait until next July to wear the costume," Drake mourns, "Anyway, want to slack off work and help me assemble the rest of the suit?"
"Sounds diverting," I answer with a smile. We push, drag, and shove the box into a secluded corner of the file maze where we're least likely to be discovered. Drake pours over the instructions and I start unloading each piece.
"Where did you order this?" I ask.
"Custom made from a martial arts armor manufacturer," Drake replies, "I drew up the specs to be as realistic as possible."
"Impressive," I compliment. He reads out a few part names and I locate the pieces for him. As he starts connecting plastic together with various implements, I pull out my sketchbook and start to draw the intensity of his focus on the task at hand. I know better than to attempt to aid in the assembly considering the results of my last project. The embarrassment of that particular leaning tower of canvas and tent poles lingers in the back of my mind.
"Thank you," Drake responds, "As you said, might as well put this great physique to use for something other than bashing heads in football."
I laugh. "I've been wondering," I prompt, "How exactly does a computer geek end up in football?"
"Natural strength and agility," Drake explains as if stating the obvious, "Funnily enough my mother discovered my true calling after my ballet instructor kicked me out for being too aggressive. Dad was devastated."
"He thinks I wasted my mind on football. Too many hits to the head. My dad has never danced underneath the floodlights of a stadium, crossed the goal line, and triumphantly held up the winning football to a crowd of screaming fans," he sighs wistfully into a memory, "Plus I know my strength won't last forever. Soon enough I'll be old and feeble, like dear old dad."
"I would hardly call your dad old and feeble," I chide humorously, "So you were a football hero and a computer whiz. Is there anything you can't do? You remind me of a friend who is similarly afflicted with perfection. I bet you were hated in high school by jealous overachievers."
"Bullies in high school called me hateful names behind my back but for reasons other than my talents on the field or in the classroom," Drake says without missing a beat.
"Oh," I stutter, "I'm sorry, I didn't think. I should have known."
"It's okay," Drake chuckles at my discomfort, "I had it comparatively easy. My father's influence and living in a large city tended to offer me a bit more leeway than most."
"Do you miss football?" I ask.
"Definitely," he agrees firmly, "No glory in programming. Unless you amass a billion dollars doing it, but my family already has millions so why bother?"
"Finally, someone who understands my point of view," a voice drawls above us.
Drake and I jump up guiltily. I drop my sketchbook and various pieces of costume fall off his lap.
"Please, continue," he tells Drake, "I need to borrow Lyn though. For lunch."
"I suspect this will be the last time we call ahead to make reservations," I announce, unfolding my napkin and carefully placing it on my lap. Normally I wouldn't bother, but with three different cameras snapping photos of me through a window on my left, I'm unusually conscious of my lack of proper dining etiquette. Bruce and I are seated at a table on top a raised platform alcove next to a bay window. I scoot my chair closer to the window in an attempt to avoid the perilous edge of the platform. Judging from the atmosphere of the cafe, the platform probably doubles as a stage for open mic nights and slam poetry readings when not being used to display high profile patrons eating lunch. The large pane of glass sucks all the warmth from the room and makes my arm hair stand on end. Both options are unfavorable; chilly goose bumps up my arm, or the potential of a well documented, unflattering tumble from my chair when the leg inches off the stage.
"I requested private dining," Bruce comments, leaning back casually and flicking open the wine list. Despite his comfortable appearance, I can sense his annoyance from the slight tilt of his mouth, "I believe the restaurant is new. Needs some publicity."
"They can take every bit of mine," I say, "Freely. It looks like they need it."
The place is empty apart from us.
Bruce looks up at me from under his eyebrows, gives me a princely smile, and then returns to the menu. I shift in my seat and try to avoid watching the people outside watching me.
"It's severely tempting to make faces out the window," I say with a sigh.
Bruce makes a humming noise that could be taken as assent.
"The photographers still hovering in front of the window probably anticipate another drunken blunder given the amount of time you're spending pouring over that menu," I continue.
Another hum of agreement from the wine list.
I sit staring at the overly pretentious logo for a few minutes before I make another attempt at engaging the cardboard cutout in conversation.
"How nice of you to plan a lunch outing," I remark cheerily.
"Actually that was a complete lie," I correct myself. I fold my arms on the table and lean forward with an expression mirroring Bruce's typical mock seriousness, "This is utterly boring."
Now a stifled laugh accompanies the murmured agreement but the menu fails to disappear.
"How do normal people survive dates without falling asleep?" I continue.
"Normal people typically sleep eight hours a night. Instead of averaging four," Bruce replies.
"Which we only get if we combine my three with your one," I tease, "Seriously, people sit across from each other every meal and pretend to be interested in what the other has to say. Perhaps, after failing at stimulating conversation, people decide to forgo eating altogether. Or concentrate on the taste of the meal. But what is the point of going out to eat anyway? The meal or the entertainment of good company? Most couples appear completely miserable with each other, forced to take any enjoyment from the food alone."
The wine list lowers just enough to reward me with a glimpse of two sarcastic eyes laughing at me.
"And why do people enjoy talking so much anyway?" I muse, "And if we're looking for someone so much like ourselves, why not just talk to ourselves? One would win every argument, not matter what side one took. And one would always find oneself funny."
The eyes disappear. I sigh in frustration.
"I will not let us become them," I say, "In other words: normal." In one swift movement, I shuffle the elegant single flower vase over to one side of the table, snatch the menu out of Bruce's hands, and plunk it down between us and the window, effectively blocking the reporters from view. A surprised Bruce slips something into his jacket, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. He obligingly leans forward and hides behind the wine list with me.
"What were you doing exactly?" I ask, "A wine list cannot possibly be that fascinating to someone who doesn't drink."
"Scoping," Bruce says innocently, his characteristic smirk spreading across his face.
"Scoping out what?"
"Other than the door which is less than two feet away?" I ask.
"To the roof."
"Sounds pretty abnormal in comparison to the usual luncheon activity," I postulate.
"You never know when you might need to escape an insane scarecrow intent on kidnapping a billionaire."
"Very true," I agree.
"The waiter seated me on the wrong side of the table," Bruce says quietly. He takes my hand with a gentle caress, "I wanted a clear view of the back room and…"
"Speaking of, here comes our food," I interrupt in a hasty whisper and gracefully pull my hand from Bruce's. I smile at him flirtatiously and the two of us make a show of reluctantly leaning back in our chairs.
"Thank you," I tell the waiter as he presents me with the largest and fanciest chicken salad sandwich I have ever seen.
Once he leaves I assess the potentially hazardous concoction sitting in front of me. When I had ordered the lunch, I hadn't considered the possibility of Gotham city being subjected to a photo of Bruce Wayne's girlfriend dripping chicken salad dressing all over her shirt on page 8. Finally deciding on the cleanest method of eating the sandwich, I pick up my fork and knife.
Bruce grunts in disgust. I glance up from my own meal in time to see him drop the soup spoon back into the bowl, wearing an expression that looks as if he smells something unpleasant.
"Something wrong with the soup?" I ask.
He answers by arrogantly pushing the bowl away from him and pulling out his checkbook.
"It can't be that bad," I insist.
The photographers outside zealously snap photos.
"We're leaving," Bruce says. He drops the check on the table and gets up.
"Okay," I say. A hint of regret seeps into my voice. I was looking forward to that chicken salad, even if it required a fork and knife to eat. The photographers notice we're about to leave and disappear down the street. Bruce quickly glances around to ensure we're alone, takes my hand, and leads me to a back door.
"I thought the escape route talk was merely frivolous banter," I whisper in his ear.
Bruce throws a mocking look over his shoulder that clearly states nothing is frivolous with him.
Together we disappear through the door and start climbing the miles of stairs behind it. The stairs are old and metal. Our clanking footsteps echo up and down the stairwell. And we keep going up, and up, and up, and up some more. After the twentieth flight, the adrenaline wears off and my legs start to complain. I slow down a bit. Bruce turns around and notices me falling behind. He grabs my hand again, his eyes promising that my efforts will be rewarded, and pulls me along. As we climb we discard various unnecessary outerwear. Somewhere between the twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth floor Bruce drops his suit jacket. I dump my own jacket on the thirtieth floor and my now slightly sweaty sweater two floors after. By the time we reach the roof both of us are in our undershirts. I'm noticeably more overheated and worn out than Bruce. He holds the roof access door open for me. I step out onto the wooden deck. A cool breeze offers respite from the stifling air in the stairwell. I walk to the end of the deck and lean against the railing three feet from the edge of the roof.
"Not quite there yet," Bruce says with a smile. He pauses to pick the lock on the rusty old gate that separates the wooden deck with the rest of the roof and pushes past the sign warning 'Authorized Personal Only: No Exit'. We crunch across the gravel covered roof toward a smaller brick tower. We clamber up the fire escape and onto the top of the tower. The city spins in a 360 degree view below us. I hover on the ledge, leaning into the breeze. Bruce stands to my right, clearly enjoying my enthusiasm. I take a deep breath and stretch my arms wide in a cliché, yet appropriate, gesture. Bruce chuckles and sits down next to me, dangling his legs over the ledge.
"Do you ever get that urge to leap off and fly?" I ask him.
"I've acted on it," Bruce says with a smile.
"Right," I laugh, "Momentarily forgot who I was talking to."
"Unlike you, I can only imagine how flying would feel," I say.
"What do you imagine?"
"Promise not to laugh?"
"Freedom," I announce.
A grin spreads across his face.
"I know it sounds cheesy," I say, "How would you describe it?"
"Escape," he suggests.
"Unmitigated awareness," I say, "The sensation of your gut spilling up to your chest, forcing every worry, care, or emotion out of your body." I look down at him for validation of my theory.
"I know the feeling," Bruce says.
I smile at him and plop to the ground.
"I don't though," I say, "I get snatches of it standing on rooftops or mountains, or on roller coasters, or going down an elevator very fast, but I doubt those can compare."
He shakes his head.
"Do you lunch here often?" I ask him in my best posh impression.
"As often as I can," Bruce replies, mimicking my pretensions, "From here I can study the layout of the entire financial district and crime alley area," Bruce sketches the perimeter of the city blocks in the air, "When flying at night, I need to have the rooftops memorized down to every detail."
"This is how you spend your lunch hour every day?" I ask, "Memorizing never-ending expanses of buildings?"
"I rotate through a list of the tallest buildings in Gotham," he replies, "Monday will be that one." he points to a building roughly ten blocks away from us.
I slip my sketchbook from my bag and start to map out the grid.
"Today's excursion has a higher purpose though," Bruce adds, "Determining an approximate perimeter based on the distance from the Ferris Wheel to the hotel room where the mob boss was assassinated. If a sniper is positioned anywhere within the vicinity, I intend to be ready."
"I have some ideas," he says thoughtfully, "but I'm trying to find another way."
"Because the plan is exuberantly expensive and public. Such a large waste of money, even by Bruce Wayne, is guaranteed to raise a few suspicions.
I catch his eyes with mine, "Unlike wasting expensive food, which is an everyday occurance?"
Bruce smiles, fishes around in his briefcase, and pulls out a candy bar. I raise my eyebrows at him in disbelief.
"We traded a delicious lunch downstairs for processed sugar?" I ask incredulously.
He hands me the bar silently. I turn it over in my hands and discover the image of a man clinging to the edge of a sheer cliff printed on the front.
"Or tasteless cardboard," I correct, "Possibly the best, or at least the most expensive, chicken salad sandwich languishes alone on a table, begging to be eaten, and instead you give me energy bars."
"Sometimes I switch to fiber bars."
I snort, "How adventurous of you. Either way I doubt if hiking stairs expends enough energy to merit a form of processed food intended to replenish a mountaineer."
"You'd be surprised."
"Maybe for me, but definitely not for someone as physically fit as you."
"Try it," Bruce gestures to the bar.
"Not hungry," I protest. My stomach betrays me by choosing that moment to growl loudly. The empty sound of rumbling must be somehow triggered by merely thinking about food.
Bruce smirks at me.
"What a weird noise. Perhaps a feral pigeon roosts nearby," I say, pretending to search around distractedly.
He stares pointedly at the energy bar in my hand and then looks up at me from under his eyebrows. That irresistibly adorable half smile melts every bit of stubbornness in me. I unwrap the bar, examine the oats and various unidentifiable crunchy substances fused together by edible glue, and take a bite.
And promptly jerk forward in a half retch. I chew determinedly and swallow.
Bruce's smile grows and he chuckles at my grimace of distaste.
"Worse than cardboard," I inform him, "And…don't ask why I've tried cardboard."
"An acquired taste," Bruce retorts, breaking off a piece of a new bar and eating it with far less theatrics than my attempt.
"Cardboard or energy bars?" I ask.
More chuckles, "Both?" he suggests. "The food downstairs is too rich," he explains, "I follow a strict diet to maintain my strength and agility as Batman. Occasionally eating out is fine, but lunch everyday would be detrimental."
I take another bite. This time I manage to restrain myself from reflexively spitting it out. Both of us crunch loud enough to drown out anything we might say.
"Very clever by the way," I take a break from eating to give my jaw a rest.
"Cardboard or energy bars?" Bruce repeats.
I laugh, "I meant evading the press. Hiding in plain sight. At the top of the world, where anyone can see us, but no one bothers to look. I feel like a spec of dust. So small, and insignificant. Everything slides back into perspective."
"One person in a mass of millions," Bruce agrees, "What difference can one person make?"
"Depends on the person," I reply.
"Bruce Wayne?" he offers, "What difference does he make? Except to provide cautionary tales and endless entertainment."
"You could do a lot more if you chose to," I point out.
He shakes his head, "Fame entraps me. With all the scrutiny I can't drop my mask or else…"
"People might start to question your strange habits," I finish for him.
Another long pause in conversation filled only with crunches.
I swivel around to face him and prop my sketchbook on my knees.
"Since you managed to avoid public scrutiny on the roof, I'll have to take their place," I announce with my pencil poised to draw, "Strike a pose!"
"I don't strike poses," Bruce scoffs.
"You're Bruce Wayne. Of course you strike poses," I retort, "Pretend to be gazing out over the kingdom you will own someday."
"Don't turn my life into a Disney movie."
"I'm not turning it into one. The Lion King parallels are already there. Tragic death, early in life, leaves scars, which the protagonist runs away from, until he becomes strong enough to fight back? Sounds familiar to me," I say.
Bruce leans back on his elbow and stares up at the sky, "What about your story? You left Gotham at one point. And yet here you are."
I start to sketch his outline, skimming over his perfectly sculpted face and chest with my eyes, "My dad sent me away from Gotham when I was 15. My mom was long gone at that point and he couldn't bear the thought of being a single parent. I came back when he died."
We sit silently for a while. My usual artistic talent fails me completely. The drawing of Bruce refuses to even vaguely resemble him. No matter how many times I flip the sketchbook and start on a new page, or draw and redraw the shape of his eyes or the line of his jaw, I fail to get it right. My pencil traces the curve of his lower lip and I quickly glance up for reference, only to be caught in his gaze. For a moment I forget how to breathe.
I slam the cover of my sketchbook down hastily put it away.
"Finished already?" Bruce asks.
"The pencil wasn't cooperating," I say dismissively.
He raises an eyebrow at my obviously uncomfortable behavior. I shove my bag off my lap and lie back on the sun warmed cement. Closing my eyes to block out the rays, I also attempt to block the confusing mess of thoughts fighting to escape me. I've only ever had this much difficulty sketching a portrait of someone one time in my life. For five years of my life I loved a philosopher, but in all that time I could never draw him. Not for lack of trying. I filled sketchbooks with his face. But I could never look at him objectively enough to succeed until he dumped me for a normal girl who wanted the 2.5 kids and white picket fence. After that, and after I stopped crying every night before bed, it was easy to detach myself enough to draw ugly portraits of the first man to break my heart. Thankfully that particular romance is long in the past, and the sketchbooks long lost.
Yet now I find myself unable to detach from Bruce Wayne. I sense him recline back next to me. I open one eye and peek over at him. He appears completely serene, eyes closed and hands calmly folded on his stomach. Our elbows nearly touch. the hair on my arm stands on end. I can feel it brushing softly through his when I shift to a more comfortable spot. I close my eyes again and sigh.
A moment later Bruce slips his hand in mine. And somehow, despite everything, for a few hours the world makes sense in the most illogical, irrational, and completely impossible way.
Thanks to our rooftop excursion, Bruce and I barely make Teresa's interview with Ron Marshall. The tent city is alive with the usual swarm of reporters, curious citizens, and protestors. The overnight transformation from an unknown grassroots movement into a city-wide campaign still amazes me.
"Lyn, Bruce, thank goodness!" Teresa spots us in the midst of the news crew mob and drags us through to the center fire pit.
"Pleased to see me?" Bruce asks with a supercilious smirk.
I shoot him a side glare.
"Don't push your luck, Wayne," Teresa retorts with a grin, "You may have saved my protest with extra funding and a full scale mercenary army, but that doesn't mean I have to like you."
"Actually he probably included that in the contract," I say, "Must befriend wealthy benefactor, or the extra security disappears."
It's Bruce's turn to glare at me. I smile defiantly.
"Except, take away the private security and we're done," Teresa sighs and gestures to a line of riot police surrounding the perimeter of the fire pit, "Marshall insisted on being escorted by his GCPD flunkies."
"Is that entirely necessary?" I ask.
"A show of force," Bruce observes, "And political power."
"Exactly," Teresa grudgingly agrees, 'Marshall wants to prove that he has the full backing of the mayor even if we gained the support of a narcissistic playboy, no offence."
"None taken," Bruce says with a smile.
"Not to mention the veiled threat of possible arrest if any one of us puts a single toe out of line," Teresa adds, crossing her arms angrily.
"Places everyone!" a reporter calls out.
Teresa takes hold of my shoulders and positions me just off camera.
"Stand here; nod your head, and smile," Teresa says, "look supportive, that kind of thing."
"Okay," I reassure her.
"Thank you," she breathes. She sits down on a camp chair next to Bob and faces the camera.
"Hold on," the interviewer says in a mildly annoyed voice that someone might use if they recently stepped in chewing gum, "Who is this?" and gestures to Bob.
"My translator," Teresa explains, "Our movement in support of the homeless seeks to be as inclusive as possible."
The interviewer appeals to Marshall for approval and Marshall shrugs nonchalantly.
"All right," the interviewer says, "Let's get started."
As the interview progresses I wonder why Teresa believed she needed my support. She answers each question thoroughly and concisely. And after every answer, Bob recites a string of Spanish words and signs the English version. He happily ignores every word Marshall utters.
"I'm not accustomed to losing," Marshall drawls with a brilliantly kind smile, "A good businessman doesn't throw his financial support behind a project he might not win. Gotham will win and be awarded with new luxury condos on beautiful residential streets. Downtown will become the place to live; I promise you. Give it one year, maybe two, and the economic prospects of Gotham shall flourish."
"You forget the people who rely on this shelter for support. Our community has fought long and hard to drive out crime here and you are attempting to reap the benefits for your personal gain," Teresa says, "I promise you, the people you displace will not go away. The economic disparity between the rich and the poor in this city grows every year. Analysts praise Gotham for successfully starting to rebuild the city's economy after the recession. The city receives accolades for the glamorous new skyscrapers, or the new additions to the public transportation linking the sports and casino complex. But people overlook the cutting of necessary bus routes workers depend on in order to raise the money to build the new train tracks. And for every luxury condo, entire neighborhoods decay under overgrown weeds and trash. How can you say Gotham is flourishing when we still lead the nation in black poverty? The next time a high profile politician comes to visit, when the police clear the homeless people out from the underpasses again, where do you expect them to turn to if the last safe shelter is demolished?"
Applause breaks out. For the first time Marshall seems to realize opponents surround him completely. His pleasant expression twitches. Teresa stands up, gracefully acknowledges her audience with a nod and a smile, and offers a hand to Marshall. He shakes her hand coldly.
"Well said," Marshall grudgingly admits, "And in the spirit of continued deliberation, I extend an invitation to tonight's evening banquet raising funds for rebuilding the homeless shelter in a more suitable location. I hope to see you and your supporter, Bruce Wayne, there."
Teresa momentarily balks. Chin up and steely looking him square in the face, she announces, "I accept the invitation. You can inform my colleague of the details," she gestures to Bob, "Meanwhile, I must oversee the organization of the August 'first-Friday-of-the-month' breakfast for dinner starting in an hour."
"Hold on," the interviewer objects, "While we have Bruce Wayne and his girlfriend here, we'd like to ask them some questions as well."
I stare wide eyed at Teresa and mouth an adamant 'no'. Bruce laughs and tries to escape but the reporter drags us in front of the camera.
"Mr. Wayne, pleasure to have finally caught up with you," the reporter says, shoving a microphone in Bruce's face.
"The pleasure is entirely yours," Bruce says nonchalantly.
"Tell us your opinions on the current debate over the homeless shelter, Mr. Wayne," the interviewer prompts.
"I don't have opinions," Bruce says casually, "I have the money."
I choke down a snort.
"Certainly you have a reason for siding with Ms. Williams financially?" the interviewer searches for a story in vain.
"Business interests," Bruce explains curtly, "It's all a bit complicated. Now, if you'll excuse me…"
Somehow Bruce manages to disappear, leaving me standing awkwardly alone in front of the camera.
Undeterred, the reporter turns on me, "How does it feel to be the girlfriend of a man rich enough to pay rent for every person here for over a year?"
"uh…" I stutter.
"Bruce Wayne is planning to rebuild a multi-billion dollar mansion outside of Gotham, yet you're supporting a protest against luxury apartments being built right here in downtown," the reporter says, "Compared to the luxury your boyfriend lives in, I think the expense of these apartments is negligible. Preaching financial equality yet indulging in expensive mansions would make some call you and Bruce Wayne hypocrites."
"What my boyfriend does with his money has no relation to me or my political views," I reply curtly.
"Yet you do not deny that you benefit significantly from his extravagant spending? Especially as the tabloids claim you have gone from rags to riches in a matter of weeks," the reporter probes, her eyes positively gleeful at getting a rise out of me. Before I can organize a cohesive answer to her accusations someone slips an arm through mine in a show of solidarity.
"Have you given your home to the poor?" Teresa asks the interviewer.
"I live in a modest apartment…" the interviewer starts to say, looking taken aback.
"And my friend Bob lives in a tent,' Teresa interrupts, "Yet every night if someone is stuck outside in the rain he makes room and lets them in. Now, sharing a tent with Bob is not the most pleasant option, but when compared to rain and cold anything can start to look favorable. So, do you have a couch?"
"Yes," the interviewer replies. She appears confused to be the one answering questions instead of asking.
"And is it occupied during the night?" Teresa asks.
"No," the interviewer scoffs.
"Then why don't you do as you suggest and offer your couch up to the homeless?"
"In Gotham?" the interviewer laughs, "I'd be murdered in my sleep."
"What?" a bystander interrupts the conversation, "Are you implying all homeless people are murderers?"
"No," the interviewer tries to backtrack.
"But you do have a couch, a relative luxury compared to most people in this tent city," Teresa confirms, "And you refuse to share that luxury with others. While at the same time condemning Bruce Wayne for not sharing his luxuries."
"Yes," the interviewer stutters, "No. But…"
"The internal conflict you are currently experiencing is called cognitive dissonance," Teresa explains coldly, "Everyone deals with it. Look it up."
Teresa steers me away from the cameras.
"Thank you," I tell her as soon as we are out of earshot.
"No problem, I hate people who are quick to complain about others but never look in the mirror," Teresa says bitterly, "But if you want to make it up to me you can help serve Breakner at O'Fallon's church tonight."
"Breakfast for dinner," Teresa grins, "Hope you enjoy pancakes."
"Only the kind with licorice eyes and whipped cream smiles," Bruce startles us from behind.
Teresa laughs at him, "I will instruct Wei to make you a special one if you join us."
"Sadly, I can't," Bruce's eyes meet mine meaningfully, "I also must regrettably turn down the invitation to Marshall's benefit tonight."
"Better plans?" Teresa asks.
"I'm sick," he coughs, "Food poisoning."
"Intentional or accidental?" Teresa asks with a smile.
"Both," he replies.
"You don't look sick," I conclude, "And who else will I go with?"
"I'm sick internally," he makes a face, "Why not ask Bob?"
I laugh, but his joke gives me an idea. If the public so desperately wants to pin me to the Cinderella narrative, I might as well have fun with it.
Hours later, in O'Fallon's church basement, I'm saddled with the job of applying the toppings to pancakes served up by Wei, who turns out to be a master on the griddle. Teresa stands next to me, dishing out scrambled eggs by the spoonful. Wei offers me a plate teetering with a two feet tall stack of pancakes. The diameter of each pancake is roughly the size of my head.
"We don't get to eat until after everyone else has had their fill," Wei says for the second time that evening in a slightly mournful tone.
"Just in case we run out," Teresa reminds him, "We can always get more supplies for our dinner later."
Wei grimaces and rubs his flat stomach.
"You ate pizza three hours ago!" Teresa admonishes.
"I need a lot of food to sustain me," Wei states as he returns to cooking, "If I pass out at the griddle at least let me land on a pancake."
"Pass out into a pancake and it's yours. No spreading germs here," Teresa calls after him.
Unfortunately, I'm bored with pancake topping duty after my first ten pancakes. Recalling Bruce's comment about smiley faces, I pick up a blank protest board and a couple magic markers from the corner of the room. After scrawling out a sign I prop the board against the toppings buffet and add an empty cardboard box next to it.
"What are you doing?" Teresa asks suspiciously.
"Ruining my reputation by being myself," I announce. Teresa leans across the table to investigate the poster upside down.
"Lend any article of clothing for one night and receive a special masterpiece pancake," Teresa reads aloud, "Masterpiece pancake?"
In response I flip a pancake onto a single plate and start to load it up with toppings. Once I'm finished I hand Teresa a pancake transformed into a face.
"Very nice," Teresa says, "A close likeness to Ron Marshall. I knew his fancy speeches were too syrupy sweet to be true."
My enterprise gains the attention of the people waiting in line for their pancakes. Soon my artistic talent becomes high in demand. A crowd gathers around the buffet, watching in awe as I paint a replica of the Mona Lisa on a pancake using peanut butter, butter, and various syrup flavors. An even larger line forms. People don't seem to mind that my strange combinations don't end up very tasty. Teresa fields requests and starts organizing a waiting system to allow guests to watch their pancake being made. And luckily, everyone is perfectly content to let me borrow the one thing everyone finds superfluous in the summer: wooly winter accessories. My empty box fills with discarded gloves, mittens, hats, scarves, and even a well loved pair of 80's era jellies. The jellies are a lovely shade of royal purple interspersed with flecks of gold and match a star studded scarf perfectly. I mentally remind myself to make those the highlight of my evening wear.
"What is going on out here?" Wei interrupts my work on the tenth pancake, "We're getting a backlog of pancakes."
"Lyn is stretching her artistic reach," Teresa jokes, displaying a pancake covered in a syrup and butter sunset.
Wei scrutinizes the pancake carefully and disappears back into the kitchen. Teresa catches my eye and we both burst into giggles. Our laughter is cut short when the next pancake comes out of the kitchen in the shape of Mickey Mouse.
"You're going to have to up your game," Teresa tells me as the kids nearest the front of the buffet table start requesting a Mickey pancake of their own.
"Let's hope the Mouse's copyright police don't descend," I retort. After successfully covering Mickey with black licorice and Oreo cookies to create his face, I hand the pancake off to a kid. Wei's next creative pancake vaguely resembles sleeping beauty's castle.
"I probably don't want to know how he is achieving such shapes," I comment.
"As long as he doesn't violate health code, anything is fine by me," Teresa responds.
Before breakner ends I manage to decorate one Space Needle, one TARDIS, a dozen Disney characters, one Luxo Jr., two hydroplanes, and a variety of other shapes, including one triangle that Wei called the tri-force along with instructing me to 'color the three side triangles and leave the center triangle blank' and a ring that he said was 'the one'.
After everyone leaves, I cross the street to the parking lot, and duck into Teresa's tent carrying my box of borrowed clothes. I dump the contents on the ground and start sorting by color. Protestors apparently favor a wide variety of vibrant colors. I hang a cheap, skin-tight black dress from the center tent pole. Digging around inside my messenger bag, I pull out the knitting emergency kit Eleanor insists I carry at all times. I used to question the necessity of over two hundred safety pins, but times like these remind me to always adhere to the wisdom of age, even when it might seem crazy. I open the plastic container, unhook a couple pins, and begin to construct my sculpture.
"Dear god, Lyn, what have you done?" Jessica asks the minute she steps through the tent flap.
I guiltily look up from the pink scarf I'm pinning to an orange mitten.
"Making my evening gown," I reply casually.
"Huh," Jessica says. She blinks at my creation for a minute, nods, and then sits down on a pillow.
I continue to work in silence. Occasionally I sneak glances at Jessica's frozen expression. I'm beginning to wonder if her sporadic eye twitch stems from overwork or my gown when she makes a strangled noise.
"I think a lost and found box threw up wooly accessories all over your dress in rainbow blotches," she announces with a pained expression.
I stand back and examine my handiwork.
"It sparkles too," Jessica chokes.
"That would be the two hundred safety pins holding everything together," I explain.
"Giving it a slight resemblance to Cinderella's rag dress before her fairy godmother put it out of it's misery," Jessica tilts her head in bemusement, "Or a Christmas tree. How did you get the skirt so poofy?"
"Multiple layers," I say, lifting a glove to reveal another behind it.
"Must be heavy," Jessica comments.
"Vastly," I reply, "But I've developed some muscle lately, so I can handle it."
"Whatever you do," Jessica warns, "don't show my sister or else she'll want one, and I want her to appear socially acceptable tonight."
"Fair enough," I say and pin another scarf in the shape of a bow to the waist.
"You realize, as Bruce Wayne's girlfriend, your dress will make all the society papers and blogs," Jessica warns.
"All part of the plan," I say, "If people wish to judge me superficially, at least let the superficiality say something about my personality."
"As long as you realize what you're getting into. Teresa doesn't understand social cues or trends very well," Jessica laments, "I insisted she go to the benefit alone for that exact reason. I can't always be there to hold her hand whenever she deals with someone of the upper class. Sometimes I worry she relies on me too much."
"She was perfectly capable in the interview today," I remind her.
"Teresa gives wonderful interviews and demolishes opponents in debates," Jessica readily agrees, "But that's exactly her problem. She can't be diplomatic. She desperately holds on to her idealistic worldview and expects people to eventually agree with her if she presents reasonable truths to them often enough. She can't deal with unreasonable people, or people who don't share her perspective."
"Hence her hatred of Bruce," I comment.
"Exactly," Jessica giggles, "I'm almost dying to go tonight simply to see how Teresa survives a room full of socialites with trust funds. Her coping mechanism for well-intentioned ignorance will be put to the test."
"I think, sometimes, as her older sister, you underestimate her," I point out.
"True," Jessica sighs, "I guess it's my prerogative to worry."
I nod and pin the finishing touch on my dress. Triumphantly I take my sketchbook out of my messenger bag and deposit it in the stealthily hidden scarf satchel attached to the skirt. My various other purse necessities, including the knitting kit, disappear into gloves, hats, and mittens.
"Walking in that dress will be like lifting weights," Jessica says wryly.
"But I will be prepared for anything," I grin at her.
Teresa ducks into the tent and nearly collides with my heavy, wooly monstrosity.
"Wow," Teresa exclaims, "Awesome!"
"No," Jessica says sternly.
"I don't want to wear it," Teresa snaps, "I am wearing the lovely number you selected." She sarcastically turns on the spot displaying her elegant, canary yellow gown.
"She picked the color," Jessica tells me with lackluster enthusiasm.
"The color matches my earrings," Teresa brushes back a lock of hair to show off a dove shaped earring sporting bright yellow dangling eggs.
"Teresa really…." Jessica starts to complain.
"Nah, you can't say anything," Teresa interrupts, "You promised I could pick out my own jewelry."
"I did," Jessica rubs her forehead wearily.
"I like the doves," I say.
"You would," Jessica raises an eyebrow at my dress.
"Thank you," Teresa nods at me and throws a triumphant smile at Jessica.
"Two people sharing the same taste doesn't mean you have any," Jessica adds, "It merely means you are both tasteless."
"You look great, Teresa," I override Jessica's criticisms. Teresa's transformation into a sleek, well-groomed socialite is astounding. For the first time, I can see the family resemblance between her and Jessica. But Teresa wears her newfound glamour as if it is a burden rather than natural.
"I feel ordinary," she replies with a glower.
"All the better to blend in," Jessica says, "You need to instill a good impression. Show the elite how easy it is to break into their world if one knows the rules."
"I don't want to break into their world," Teresa says, "I want to break it period."
"Don't tell them that," Jessica laughs.
"Not looking forward to the benefit?" I ask Teresa.
"Most definitely not," Teresa replies.
"I don't know how you could not be looking forward to it with the supremely handsome Jon escorting you," Jessica sighs.
"Has Jon shown up yet?" Teresa asks as she distractedly throws her cell phone into a clutch.
"Not yet," Jessica says with disapproval in her voice.
Teresa sighs and glares at her sister, "Stop being so judgmental."
"I'm not judging!" Jessica protests.
"You are," Teresa says, "You have that constipated face."
"What face?" Jessica demands, "I don't have a face."
"You do. And you're making it now," Teresa says and turns to me, "Jessica disapproves of me bringing Jon as my date."
"The boy is half in love with you!" Jessica accuses Teresa.
"And that's a bad thing?" I ask with a grin.
"Yes," Teresa and Jessica reply simultaneously. Jessica's tone self righteous and Teresa's exasperated.
"She's still pining after Mr. White Knight Dent," Jessica gestures to Teresa.
"Still?" I ask.
"I'm not pining," Teresa shrugs and straightens up in defiance.
"Yes you are," Jessica argues, "That stance you took right now? Harvey's. You're still subconsciously using his mannerisms."
Teresa shakes her head.
"And that one," Jessica adds.
Teresa looks to me for help.
"The gesture was reminiscent of Dent," I admit.
"Anyway," Teresa snatches up her bag, "The state of Gotham's homeless takes precedence over my love life."
"One guess which is more important to Jon right now," Jessica muses.
"Maybe, but not to me," Teresa turns on her heel and walks out, "Call me when he arrives."
"She secretly enjoys the drama," Jessica smirks at me, "A welcome distraction from the bigger issues."
"I know the feeling," I say. I unclip my dress from the tent pole and hold it up in front of me with a sigh and a pause for dramatic effect, "I maybe need help getting into this."
Jessica's eyes travel from the five layers of gloves in the skirt to the oversized scarf bow at the waist and bursts into laughter. The difficulty of getting into the dress proves second only to the difficulty of getting Bruce out of his Batman costume after a long night of crime fighting. After a couple of failed attempts, Jessica finally manages to throw the dress over my head as I drag downwards on the skirt.
Teresa pops her head into the tent, "He sent a limo! The place is only two blocks away and Ron Marshall sends a limo. He's as bad as Bruce Wayne."
"Worse," I retort instinctively. At least Bruce is conscious of the irony.
"Whatever," Teresa rolls her eyes, "Hurry up. Jon is here and we're ready to leave."
"Is Bob ready?" I call after her.
"What?" she asks.
"My date," I repeat, "Is he ready?"
Teresa laughs, "I'll go find him."
If someone could build the ideal place for an assassination to occur it would be the Marshall Corporation Headquarters. A few years ago, to the dismay of the poverty stricken citizens of Gotham, Ron Marshall constructed a lavish, sparkling palace to house his company and his private apartment in the middle of downtown using entirely glass, the construction material his company is known for. Hiding behind glass walls is impossible, unless a person contrives to spend the entire night in the bathroom, the one place the curtains remain closed.
My first hour at Marshall's benefit is spent hovering behind Teresa like an overprotective mother bear. A bear with scratchy rainbow fur who only converses with Bob or the hired help and knocks over two ice sculptures thanks to the extra two feet diameter of skirt swathing my legs. Halfway through the night Teresa deposits me at one of the buffet tables and requests I allow her to speak to the Mayor alone. I sheepishly oblige.
I munch on expensive hummus and impeccable carrot sticks while I scope the room. I might as well make myself useful. Somewhere above me sits Ron Marshall's computer, potentially containing incriminating data on Floyd Lawton. A lone security guard stands in front of a single glass elevator in the corner. The more security, the more private the area, so undoubtedly the elevator takes me nearer to Marshall's room. I shake my head back to mess up my hair a little, snatch a glass of wine from the nearest server, twirl to make my dress poof out further for fun, and down the entire drink. Unfortunately the drink turns out to be water. I smile and laugh awkwardly at the waiter as I plunk the empty glass down on the tray tipsily. Hopefully no one recalls I haven't actually had any alcohol yet. I weave my way through the crowds pretending to dance with an invisible partner. Along the way I step on at least twenty different toes and manage to accidentally smash a civil servant's mini quiche into her face. Eventually I reach the elevator where a horrified Genevieve confronts me before I can drunkenly beg for directions to the nearest upstairs bathroom.
"My god girl," Genevieve exclaims quietly, "I do believe Bruce Wayne has been a bad influence on you."
"Undoubtedly," I slur. I grin at her in passing and try to continue on my way.
She grabs my elbow, "I think you've made enough of a fool out of yourself for one night."
"Not yet," I inform her while tripping over my own feet, "Haven't beaten darling Brucie."
"You have tonight, dear," Gen says, "He's not even here."
"I know," I say, "That cheater." I grab Gen's drink and start to take a sip.
"I thought he was sick," Gen corrects me.
"Lies!" I cry, slopping the drink onto the floor.
"You've had enough of this," Gen pries the wine glass from my hands and gives it to a passing waiter. She helps me over to the elevator.
"Madame Genevieve," the security guard inclines his head.
"Evening," Gen replies, "I'm taking Lynnet to one of the guest rooms near mine to lie down."
The guard nods and opens the elevator for us. Genevieve drags me in. She drags me out again on the next floor up. We walk down a vast hallway. One side is entirely glass and provides breathtaking views of Gotham city. We end up in a dimly lit guest room. Two of the walls are lined with floor to ceiling curtains. I relinquish my hold on Gen and collapse onto the bed. With my head muffled in a pillow I hear her sigh and tell me to stay here while she gets some coffee from her room. The minute the door shuts I sit up straight. I slip underneath a corner of the curtain and press my face to the glass, momentarily wondering whose job it is to clean every pane and how miserable that must be. Outside the room is a rooftop courtyard of immeasurable size crowded with lush trees and bushes. Unfortunately the door to the courtyard is not underneath my curtain. I slip out of it and am about to search the other wall when I spot Genevieve's purse sitting temptingly on the floor next to the bed. I kneel down and dig through. Pushing all my concerns over personal privacy aside, I remind myself Genevieve's son killed a mob boss and poses a threat to Teresa. Triumphantly I snatch out her diary and shove it in an overlarge glove in my dress. Right before the hallway door bangs open I fall limply back on the bed and moan.
"I'm sorry Lyn," Gen sympathizes, "I know how you're feeling right now." She backs into the room, kicks the door shut, and carries the coffee tray to the nightstand.
"Oh ew tone," I mumble into the pillow.
"I do," she sits on the edge of the bed and rubs my back, "George has never been faithful. Not a month after the wedding and he was already finding excuses to 'stay late' at the office. It comes with having wealthy husbands, I'm afraid."
I push myself up onto my elbow and stare at her, "I'm sorry," I say softly.
"You learn to ignore it," Genevieve assures me, "He may enjoy his mistresses, but he loves his wife. Somewhere. Deep down," she gives me a pathetic smile, "Or so we must hope."
I groan and flop onto my back, "I don't feel well."
"Then don't lie on your back," Genevieve pulls me up, "You probably need to throw up."
"Toilet?" I ask.
"Right there," she gestures to a door at the end of the bed.
I slide off the silvery comforter and escape into the midnight blue tiled bathroom. I turn the faucet on to hide the lack of noise and flush the toilet a couple times. Finding a window to escape from is trickier. Silver curtains frame the tub inlaid in the floor. I pull back one and discover the only portion of the window that opens is the top third. I overturn the waste bin and prop it under the window. Pushing the window open, I stick my arms and head out first. Wriggling my shoulders past the sill is easy. Unfortunately, like most women my hips are significantly wider than my shoulders, and I have an extra couple inches of bulk thanks to the dress. I get stuck halfway through. In desperation I stare out at the black garden in search of something to help.
I can't wait for my eyes to adjust to the sudden darkness. Every minute means another minute Genevieve might start worrying. I grope blindly in front of me and thankfully smack a sturdy tree branch. Instead of gracefully pulling myself free, I end up spinning about like a corkscrew. I brace my feet against the bathroom wall but the slippery tiles fail to give me a good grip. Still hanging onto the tree to take the weight off my butt, I rest my head on my arms. One of the glass gargoyles hanging over the roof inches above me silently judges my predicament.
"Not my best plan ever" I confide to the gargoyle with a sigh.
He smirks, "Need help?"
I gasp, let go of the branch in shock, and end up dangling out the window by my knees. The gargoyle smoothly drops down from his perch with a flutter of black cape.
"Not from you," I growl and try to swing up towards the branch again.
"Are you sure?' he asks politely. His sarcastic grin belies his gracious manner.
I swing down again and give him my meanest glare, "I didn't know Gargoyles could talk."
"They do in animated movies about hunchbacks," he replies.
"Your life is not an animated movie," I say, "yet. Give the entertainment industry a couple years and I'm sure they'll come up with something," I let my hands fall limply down. The blood starts to rush to my head. "And I'm stuck. A little help would be greatly appreciated," I add resentfully.
He effortlessly lifts me out of the window.
"Thank you," I say, mimicking his exaggerated politeness and sweeping an awkward curtsey in my mitten dress.
His eyes bore into me for a minute before he turns, cape swirling, and marches deeper into the courtyard. I dog his footsteps as he expertly navigates through the maze of overgrown trees and bushes.
"Is this part of the extremely expensive plan?" I ask. Twigs snag on various knitted items embedded in my dress. Batman notices and starts holding back the worst branches.
"It is," he replies.
"And you're still not telling me anything."
"Strictly need to know…."
"Sometimes I wonder why I work with you."
He stops in front of a smaller, elevator sized glass tower in the middle of the courtyard and turns to face me. The tower soars higher than any of the peripheral spires. Shrouded in clouds, a barely visible dome balances precariously on the tip. Batman wraps an arm around my waist.
"Hold on," he warns.
In response I wrap my arms around his neck tightly. He lifts his free arm to the sky and fires a line gun at the dome. We soar into the air, his cape trailing behind us. I glance over my shoulder at the rapidly receding ground beneath me and my breath catches with excitement. Before my brain can fully register the adrenaline rush, we jerk to a stop and Batman helps me clamber onto the balcony, a truly difficult feat thanks to my gown. Batman climbs up after me and runs his hand along the bank of windows in search of a latch. His glove finds a window cracked open an inch and he fumbles with it for a half second.
"Allow me," I say, pulling out a knitting needle from a stocking cap on my dress. I expertly slide the needle into the window and use the flat end to unlock the latch, "You've never locked yourself out of your mansion before?" I ask him.
"Butler," he reminds me and heaves the window open.
"Bet he knows the trick," I reply. I gather up my skirt, stick a leg through the window, and duck into the dark room. After a brief tussle with the curtain, I emerge victorious and glance around. A glittering glass turret arches above the circular room. Multicolored blown glass objects hang from invisible wires. As I admire the scenery, Batman sets up an electronic system far beyond my technical knowledge at the nearest table and triggers the hold button on the elevator to prevent unwanted interruptions.
"Going to tell me what this does?" I ask, examining the various wires and antennas on the table.
"I calculated the distance from the Ferris Wheel to the Edgewater and estimated D.S's firing range," he explains, "I rented out every building within that range for the entire night. The system will alert me to any activity in any of those buildings."
"Sounds thorough," I say.
"I hope," he replies, "Help me open the curtains."
Making my way around the room, I lug on the heavy silver cords that swing each set of curtains open. Pinpricks of light from the nearby buildings trickle in through the windows. At the last curtain I stop and stand next to the dark shape of Batman, silhouetted against the city haze.
"And now…you wait?" I ask.
"I have never been very good at waiting," I admit nervously, "Makes me feel useless, helpless. I can't stand that feeling."
"Control," Batman says.
"Waiting seems to take control out of your hands," he continues.
"I suppose," I agree, "yes."
"You forget, by not making the first move, you control the reaction," he explains.
"And that's true as well," I say, "But what happens if we haven't prepared enough for the first move?"
His lack of reply to my slightly rhetorical question says enough. Neither of us wants to consider that outcome. We watch the city below in silence. The loud music from the party echoes up the glass elevator tower and through the single open window. Feeling restless, I step closer to listen.
"They're playing our song," I joke.
He looks at me in a manner which tells me that, if I could see them, his eyebrows would be raised sardonically.
"Spelunking," I add, "by Laura Veirs."
The familiarity of the song title draws a slight smile from him.
"Pine for the lamplight where you lie," I recite the lyrics, "If I took you, darling, to the caverns of my heart, would you light the lamp dear?"
He turns to face me and Bruce's smile appears beneath Batman's cowl, making a strange combination.
"Would you light the lamp and see fish without eyes?" I ask, "And bats with their heads hanging down towards the ground?"
Memories of our connection to spelunking, bats, and caves linger unspoken between us.
"Would you still come around?" I finish repeating the line, grin at him, and offer my hand, "Care to dance while we wait? Since you deprived me of my grand ball down below?"
Bruce's grin widens and he replies, "Bats don't dance."
"They don't?" I ask, "I seem to remember a tiny white bat knowing all the latest dance steps and how to get really crazy with the hips in another 90's animated movie. If gargoyles can talk, bats can dance."
Smirking at me, he takes my hand, slips an arm around my waist, and we stiffly turn in place with the music. The cold Kevlar plating on his chest and his mesh gloves drain any warmth from our touch.
"You should amend your statement to 'bats can dance, but they can't dance well," I comment.
"Normally when people dance, they don't talk."
"Normally when people infiltrate villain's evil lairs they don't end up dancing."
"All your talk of evil is ruining the mood," Bruce accuses.
"Your big black suit is ruining the mood," I retort.
"Sorry, that was not up to my usual caliber," I say.
"You're losing your touch."
"Or I'm simply finding it more difficult to insult you."
I can sense his eyebrows rising beneath the cowl again.
"It was so much easier to fire back sarcastic retorts when I thought you truly were an arrogant attention seeker," I explain.
"Not at all."
The circumstances should make this the most unromantic dance ever. Yet his gaze fills me with an excitement; a thrill of being completely, utterly alive. We're barely moving, yet I'm breathless. And all I can see is him.
I lean in closer and whisper the last line of the Spelunking song, "I believe in you. In your honesty. In your eyes…"
He freezes in place and takes my face in his hand. Our eyes meet. We kiss.
An instant later the entire room floods with multicolored light emanating from the hanging glass orbs. Bruce and I immediately break apart.
"Lyn?" a voice asks.
"Teresa?" I reply, glancing around in confusion, "Where are you?"
"The elevator wasn't working, so I took the stairs," Teresa says and appears out of a previously unnoticed hole in the floor.
"Stairs?" I repeat and turn back to Bruce with an accusatory glare, only to discover I'm alone. Sneaky bats and their disappearing abilities.
"Yeah, they spiral around the elevator shaft. Most people don't realize," Teresa replies, "What were you doing up here alone with the lights off? And I thought I heard Bruce Wayne's voice."
"I was on the phone," I bluff, "With Bruce."
"The voice sounded loud," Teresa says suspiciously, "And weird somehow."
"Speaker phone," I nearly falter in my lies, "And he is sick after all. Not quite himself. You know."
"I was under the impression that was a lie contrived solely for the press," Teresa folds her arms and stares me down, "Considering he seemed perfectly healthy the last time I saw him."
"I guess he came down with something in the meantime," I fish pathetically for an excuse.
Teresa laughs, "I don't believe it," she sits down on a chaise lounge and puts her feet up, "Finally I've managed to fluster the great Lynnet Pearl who always has a sly remark at the ready. So what's the truth? Is Bruce hiding behind a curtain? Is this part of the secret you two hide from the rest of the world? That drunk act downstairs was hilarious, by the way. I doubt I'll be receiving anymore invitations from Ron Marshall anytime soon. And Jessica will have a fit. Genius," she raises her glass to me, "what's your next more?" and takes a sip, "I came up here to escape. I'm beginning to understand your constant need to hide when among these people. If I get one more white lady or gentleman expecting me to represent my entire race with my answers or asking me where the bathroom is, I'm going to start trolling people by making stuff up."
All I can get out is a very loquacious, "Um."
"You look flushed, Lyn," Teresa observes with a grin, "Is Bruce really hiding behind a curtain? I was being factitious but…"
"Nope, no curtains," I say and ruffle the curtain nearest the open window to prove my honesty. As I do so I notice a conspicuous black hole outside the window where building lights should have been.
"Because he couldn't be hiding behind any of the other ten identical curtains in the room," Teresa drawls, "It's okay Lyn, I get you," she leans back and gazes up at the glowing glass, "I have this theory that you and Bruce enjoy a forbidden, dangerous twist to your romance. You have a thing for bad boys, so he pretends to one, even though you both know he's not. Secretly. Meanwhile, I seem to thrive off of unrequited love. That way, I can pour all my focus into my life's work, and love becomes a side thing I don't have time for, and would never happen anyway. I missed whatever social indoctrination ordered people to pair up and spend all their energy trying to find that life companion. And I'm glad. And people don't understand that."
"Teresa?" I ask hesitantly, "How much wine have you had tonight?"
"Not enough," she laughs, "God, sometimes I hate people. A part of me wishes to go back to being a kid when nothing frightened me and I loved everyone and everything blindly."
I realize Batman is listening in on Teresa's tipsy, heartfelt confession and I pantomime for him to go away. He fails to see this since his back is turned to the window, trying to blend in with the sky.
"How could you miss the stairs?" I hiss under my breath through the window.
"You distracted me," he replies over his shoulder, "With dancing."
"Don't you dare," I start, "You had plenty of time when we were standing around doing nothing."
"Distracting," he insists.
"Oh, doing nothing is distracting?" I ask.
"It's not what you are doing," he says and turns his head so I can see a single, glittering eye, "it's you."
He startles me into silence. I turn away, in case Teresa becomes aware of the side conversation.
"I can track the alert system remotely," Batman whispers, "Make sure it stays turned on." He jumps off the balcony and soars into the night.
My heart is doing funny things and I can't seem to breathe again.
"Lyn, are you idealistic?" Teresa asks.
"What?" I stutter, slightly disappointed at being dragged down to reality.
"Jessica believes I am," she continues, "And she thinks my idealism makes me vulnerable."
"I think a little healthy idealism never heart anybody," I reply and drop onto a couch with a poof. I pull out my sketchbook hidden inside my dress, "This dress is growing on me," I remark, "Quite handy, if a bit cumbersome."
"It looks good on you too," Teresa compliments, "like a princess. Cinderella. If Cinderella owned purple jellies instead of glass slippers."
"Thanks," I say and start to draw.
"I'm serious about Jess though," Teresa says, "She sees me as the same idealistic, innocent kid I was ten years ago."
"She's your older sister," I point out, "You'll always be a little kid to her."
"True," Teresa giggles, "Even when I'm old and grey haired. Funny thing is, I rely on her perception of me. Gotham wears you down. Sometimes the only way to fight it is to bury your head in the sand against all the demoralizing shit happening every day and still try to believe the best in people. Somehow, having her believe in me, helps me believe in myself, and I can act the part even when I'm not feeling it."
"Why do you need to act?" I ask.
"Because I want it so badly to be truth. Instead of me being a severely unappreciated actress. If I was in a movie, I'd win an Oscar, or whatever those fancy awards are," she says, "I want all those lofty goals to be real, to be possible. But sometimes I worry that the hope I'm clinging to is false, and I feel. So. Tired."
She closes her eyes. Teresa is not normally one for gratuitous movement but during our discussion she lies perfectly still, almost as if she is posing and completely aware of my sketching. I finish the portrait of her and slip the book back into my dress.
"Truth is, I'm terrified," she whispers.
"Of what?" I ask, "Of Marshall's retaliation?"
In response she reaches into a concealed pocket sewn in her dress and hands me a folded slip of paper. I unfold it and read the scratchy writing aloud, "Stop or else."
"It's on Wayne Enterprises stationary," Teresa says, "Even though it didn't mention her name, I know it's referencing Jessica."
"Why would he target Jessica?" I ask.
"Because it's the one thing that would make me fall apart," Teresa admits, "I'm willing to sacrifice myself, but I can't stand the thought of losing someone. And it would be my fault. Jessica always warns, 'you're too loud', 'you never get anywhere with people by yelling at them, or getting in their face, you need to come at them from a place of understanding', or my favorite 'you shock people too much.' I keep arguing my tactics are the only way to get attention. Otherwise it would be just me pleading to an empty room and no matter how reasonable or righteous my demands were, it would still be an empty room."
"And now you have attention," I say, "Marshall is scared. I read the reports archived in Wayne Enterprises. He's staking his entire company's future on this venture. And if people start researching his plans for gentrification, they might examine his previous construction projects and I have good reason to believe those were not entirely clean."
"Should I get people looking at his old records?" Teresa asks.
"I'm handling that," I say, "Don't worry, I'll catch him."
"Thanks," she laughs bitterly, "I have been campaigning against Marshall's construction project for over a year now. It didn't really make the news until you and Bruce got involved. I wish, for once, people would listen without needing some kind of incentive or perceived personal connection to their own lives."
"We're all selfish deep down, I guess," I say.
"You don't believe that," Teresa shakes her head.
"Sometimes I do."
"I don't want to believe that."
We contemplate the possibility. Eventually my phone rings, breaking through our thoughts. The name on the ID reads Jessica.
"Hello?" I ask.
"Lyn? Is my sister with you?" Jessica's voice sounds worried.
"Yes," I say, watching Teresa. Teresa sits up and stares at me questioningly.
"Don't tell her anything," Jessica warns, "But I think I need your help."
"Why?" I ask.
"Someone calling themselves Deadshot is threatening me," she explains, "Graffiti in front of the tent. Rumor on the street says it's an assassin who killed a mob boss a couple days ago."
"I'll be right there," I say, jumping up, "Don't go outside. Wait for me."
"What's going on?" Teresa stands with me, sobering up surprisingly quickly.
"Jessica," I say, "She didn't want me to say anything but I need you to know, and to go downstairs and act like nothing has changed."
"Consider it done," Teresa says, "But what are you planning? Shouldn't I come back with you?"
"You need to stay safe too," I explain as we get in the elevator, "Keep to groups and away from windows.'
"Wait, did you know something about this before the call?" she asks.
"I didn't want to give you another reason to worry," I say without meeting her eyes.
"Oh my god," Teresa breathes, "I thought I was just more tipsy than I realized. I didn't hallucinate you being in a lip lock with Batman before I turned the lights on. I caught a brief glimpse of those pointy ears. You're working with him, aren't you? Like a sidekick?"
"You must be drunk," I scoff, "I hope that doesn't affect your acting skills. And this isn't exactly the time for jokes."
"I'm not joking," Teresa says, "Suddenly all the secrets make sense. Oh my god, is Bruce Wayne Batman?"
"Maybe you should lie down," I start to suggest.
"Bruce Wayne couldn't be Batman," Teresa says to herself, "I remember how useless he was during the scarecrow kidnapping. Which means you're cheating on Bruce Wayne! With some unknown crusader!"
"Don't repeat that please, the tabloids will pick it up," I say, "And they don't need to spread more lies."
The elevator pings on the first floor but before I get out Teresa grabs my arm.
"Tell me or don't tell me, but if you are working with him, save her," Teresa says, her eyes startlingly hard and clear, "I don't care what happens to me. Save Jessica."
"Stay safe," I tell her. I remove her hand from my arm and push my way through the crowd to the main bank of elevators. I don't tell her that I have no intention of informing Batman of the new development. I know, despite Teresa's pleading, that Teresa is more important to her campaign and the fight against Deadshot right now. Jessica will have to settle with my help. I only wish I had a better plan.
On the first floor I retrieve my wrap from the coat check and run outside. Driving rain pours down from the sky dramatically.
Why does everything go wrong at once?
I throw my wrap around my head and arms in an attempt to keep the rain from blurring my glasses, wishing they had windshield wipers attached. I hike up my skirt, hope for the best, and run.
"Escaping the ball at midnight, Cinderella?" a stranger on the street yells after me.
I fail to save the last layer of winter accessories on my dress. I can feel the skirt get progressively lighter as bits drop off and progressively heavier as the synthetic yarns soak up the rain. A trail of abandoned hats, scarves, and gloves follows me down the two blocks to the tent city. I round the corner and dive into Teresa's tent.
"Get undressed," I announce to Jessica.
"What?" she asks and watches in confusion as I start to peel the wet dress off.
"You're going to wear my dress and wrap, and run the three blocks to Cardinal O'Fallon's church," I explain, "I'm going to wear your hoodie and head the opposite direction."
"And you think that will fool this guy?" Jessica asks, looking doubtful but pulling of her sweatshirt and jeans.
"He doesn't know we know yet," I explain.
"Who is 'we'?" Jessica asks.
"Teresa and our security team," I say, leaving out the bit about Batman.
"Won't this transfer the danger to you?" Jessica asks.
"Hopefully he'll miss," I answer.
"Don't be stupid," Jessica snaps.
"Too late," I say, "Got any better ideas?"
She silently takes my gown and pulls it on. I help her cover her head and arms with the wrap. Once dressed in our respective disguises we step outside simultaneously. Jessica starts to half run, half walk in the direction of the church. My feet stay planted on the sidewalk as I stare in disbelief at the ground.
I can't move. I know I should run, but I can't. It takes all my brain power to process the three letters encircled by a target with an arrow through the center: DOA. Spray painted blood drips from the hole in the 'O' and forms the word 'Deadshot' underneath the target. Lawton never intended to kill Teresa or Jessica. He planned to shoot me. His target was the head of Department of Archives all along. Which meant…
"Jessica!" I scream, tearing off my hood. She skids to a stop and the wrap falls off her head. Relief surges through me. No one could mistake her for me now. She stares at me in shock.
"What are you doing?" she yells.
I ignore her and search the windows above me. I'm not dead yet, which means either the threat was intended to be a warning or something interfered with Lawton's plot. My phone starts to ring.
"Hello?" I ask.
"Is Jess safe?" Teresa asks in return.
"Yes," I say.
"Good," Teresa says, "Marshall wants me to get up on stage and give a speech."
"Are there windows around the stage?"
"There are windows everywhere," she reminds me, "And even if it were possible, I'm not hiding. I'm not giving in to Marshall's scare tactics. One can't hide forever, remember?"
"I know," I reply.
"I'm waiting off stage now, but as soon as I'm done I'll come back to…" a shot drowns out Teresa's last words. Immediately I drop the phone and stagger backwards away from it.
"Lyn!" Jessica runs toward me and picks the phone up.
I know what happened. I can imagine the pandemonium occurring on the other end of the phone. My mind transports me back to the glass castle, recalls the stage in vivid detail, counts the buttons on Teresa's dress, and reconstructs the exact layout of the windows. My ears fill with nonexistent screaming and more gunshots.
"Teresa?" Jessica repeats into the phone. The pause between each name stretches into hours, "Teresa? Teresa? Teresa?"
I've been through this before, so I know what happens next. If I stay still, if I stop thinking, maybe I can prevent the inevitable. Flashbacks grip me. I remember the yellow of the carpet and the old phone from the 1980's. I remember his last words.
"Someone please pick up the phone," Jessica begs.
I need to escape. I want to run but my legs are exhausted. I still can't move. Instead I sink to my knees. My forehead touches the A sprayed on the concrete. The rain pools in the lens of my glasses and I cry. Jessica sits next to me in shocked silence, the phone discarded on the ground.
I haven't cried in six years. I'm making up for it now. It hurts. My chest and hands shake. The pain makes breathing difficult. I failed again. After a while the sobbing becomes dry heaving and I'm left gasping for breath. I focus my entire concentration on breathing. The need to run slowly drains out of me, replaced by numb cold. Jessica and I remain pristinely still, staring blankly at the graffiti in front of us.
Eventually a car rolls to a stop. I watch as Alfred bundles Jessica into the car. She goes unquestioning, and the car pulls away. I can't take my eyes off the 'O'.
A black cape folds over my head, shielding me from the rain. Batman crouches next to me, his arm hovering protectively above my shoulder.
"What went wrong?" I ask.
"Floyd Lawton's range is longer than any assassin I've ever encountered," Bruce explains, "I was too late."
Silence as we stare down at the graffiti naming Floyd Lawton's next target.
"What now?" I ask.
"I don't know," the defeat in his voice is unmistakable.