Hi everybody. While dreaming of being a novelist, I decided to play around with other people's ideas for fun before returning to my own fictions. I don't own Batman, I don't even know who DOES own Batman, and I've barely paid any attention at all to Batman aside from the new movie. What I DO own is the small obsession with "The Dark Knight" that I'm currently nursing, and a new spanking computer to type this on. Yippee.

The following and all chapters after it are simply my interpretations of these characters. They may or may not fit with others' ideas, or with Batman lore. Includes original characters of varying importance to the story. Any who wish to use these original characters in their own stories (yeah, right!) are welcome to do so, so long as they are not used in profane ways. Any and all ideas about the plot, the characters, et cetera, are welcome and will be accepted. Constructive criticism is doubly welcome if offered.

Please note that violence will occur later on in this story, and that less offensive words like "damn" will be used, but more offensive words will be "asterisked" out. Some sexuality will occur but never anything explicit. As of now this story is rated "T"--if any readers feel the rating needs to be raised, please contact me accordingly and it will be.

Chapter One: Difficulty

Ever since that night, the night that he'd finally left that psycho hanging from his ankle, Batman's life had been growing steadily more unpleasant. It was as if the universe, having finally had enough with the luck of Bruce Wayne, had decided to conspire against him by sending a small army of annoyances, disappointments, and downright unfairness in the hope of bringing him crashing to his knees. As of yet, Bruce refused to yield to this onslaught, but this was due not to the limits of his torments; rather, it was because of a singular quality in his character. Stubbornness. This was a quality he possessed in abundance, and it had both good and bad aspects. Under its influence he trudged onward, no matter the cost, if not for the sake of Gotham, then simply for the sake of following what this quality demanded of him. He must never give in--giving in was to betray not only Gotham, but himself.

Now, however, as he trudged up the most prominent of the marble staircases in his penthouse, hoping to finally collapse into his soft water-bed, the part of him that was Bruce Wayne was unable to switch off the heavy depression threatening to overwhelm him. He was tempted--sorely, sorely tempted--to turn around, stumble down the stairs, and hunt down the liquor cabinet on this floor. Perhaps he could drown his sorrows this night. Or was it morning? Perhaps he could also hunt down a clock. Not one of those horrible old-fashioned analog ones, where he'd have to stand there like an idiot for a few minutes before he figured it out, but a good and sensible digital one where he'd know the time instantly. Right now looking down at his wristwatch would be no help. That dreadful woman had broken it.

He lingered on a step, for the moment paralyzed by indecision. A sudden memory of Alfred popped into his mind. Bruce sighed when he remembered his butler, and what Alfred would think when he found his young master inebriated ("Getting a little too realistic with the playboy act? Decided you can't fake a hangover so you're going for the real thing?"). Now that he'd remembered Alfred, he'd have to go to bed straightaway. He didn't want Alfred to have to trudge up the stairs to wake him in the late afternoon, which meant he had to sleep soon. If Bruce didn't, he knew he'd oversleep and force Alfred to serve him a wake-up call. Or worse--force Alfred to send Temperance with a wake-up call. With a shudder, Bruce quickened his step as much as his aching legs would allow, leaning heavily on the banister, head and eyes drooping comically from weariness. 'Oh, if the Joker could see you now, how he'd laugh,' his mind told him, but as soon as he realized this he clamped down on the thought and shoved it to the recesses of his brain.

What seemed like hours later, he found himself staring blankly at his closed bedroom door. 'Funny,' he thought with a start, for he hadn't realized that he'd reached the room. How long had he been standing there, staring open-mouthed and glossy-eyed like a turkey in the rain? 'If the Joker could see you now...'

'No,' Bruce thought firmly, cutting off that idea midway through. He reached out to push the door open with his right hand, but the act of turning the knob sent a bolt of lightning up his arm. At first it was as if someone had slammed a brick against his funny bone, rendering his limb unpleasantly numb, but then it turned into genuine pain and he wished the numbness would return. Apparently she'd hit him hard enough to aggravate the pre-existing injury...

"DAMN that woman!" he howled, and in a moment of what he later could only classify as weakness, he let his fit of rage drive him into knocking a nearby vase from its pedestal, along with another piece of...something...he didn't know what it was meant to represent, but it had been expensive and had passed as art, so he had bought that to impress that girl, whatsername...Marishka.

Two crashes and messy shard piles on the floor was enough to dissipate what ill-will he felt, and left him feeling considerably more drained. He'd be lucky if that noise hadn't echoed in the empty house and sent Alfred--or Temperance--running up the stairs. As it was, he'd certainly get a talking-to from Alfred tomorrow, once the sun's light revealed the damage he'd done. Suddenly he felt guilty. Here he was, making more work for Alfred. He had already lied to Alfred a few weeks ago about his dislocated arm. By now he had enough knowledge about his own biology that he was able to snap it back into place himself, even though it hurt like the dickens, so he could afford to keep his injury quiet. Now Bruce would have to lie about it again. If he didn't, Alfred would drag him to that physician, Norbert, and "I was careless while doing my rock-climbing exercises" only worked as a suitable excuse the first few dozen times.

Besides, Alfred had been worrying him lately. His arm was not the first injury that he'd conveniently "neglected" to show or mention to his butler. It was not as if Bruce worried that Alfred was unsympathetic. It was just...other things. Little things, like the way that the older man had taken to zoning out--something he but rarely did before--and how he now used both hands to pour drinks, as if he couldn't trust one hand alone. In the past two weeks Bruce had been exceptionally distraught over the cough that his butler had developed. Just yesterday Alfred had been so overwhelmed by sputtering coughs that Bruce made him sit down to catch his breath, and it was only with great difficulty that Bruce was dissuaded from taking his butler to the emergency room.

Alfred had, at the start of Batman's career, pressed for Bruce to visit a doctor occasionally, but he had finally given way to Bruce's wishes when the younger man pointed out that if Bruce Wayne kept showing up with injuries on the same day Batman was hurt, even the most dense doctor alive would figure out something was up. After that Bruce had found he could rely on Alfred to help him with any serious injuries. Of late, however, Alfred had taken to dragging him to Dr. Norbert. Alfred had also taken to saying certain phrases, like "Dr. Norbert was a good friend of your father's," "he's a good man," "very honest"--and Alfred's certain favorite, "a trustworthy man." If Bruce had a dime for every time Alfred used the words "Norbert" and "trustworthy" in a sentence, he wagered that he'd double his fortune. While certainly not the most subtle man alive himself, Bruce knew when Alfred was belaboring a point.

It was what that point could entail that specifically bothered Bruce. Hadn't it just been the two of them, from the start? Maybe Lucius Fox would be involved, from time to time, but it was always Bruce and Alfred who had lived Batman from day-to-day. All of a sudden, Alfred was suddenly eager to include others in the inner circle, most especially Dr. Norbert. There was also the case of Alfred's "helper" that Bruce had to consider--Remember Temperance Yates, a British woman with a strange name and an even stranger countenance. Bruce was sure she had a temper, but she hadn't shown it yet. Ten weeks on the job and she had yet to smile. It wasn't as if she wasn't pretty--a young, petite redhead with freckles spread over her nose--but her face was unnaturally smooth. No smile, no laughter, nothing... not that laughter was altogether welcome in Bruce's life, after the Joker had ruined most of Bruce's natural good humor... but to never laugh at all?

Perhaps he was too hard on her. He'd avoided her, mostly. He didn't like her, not because of something she'd done, but because of what she represented. Because of what she could do. She never zoned out. Her eyes were like a hawk's. And she poured drinks, one-handed, with the skill of a bartender, trusting one hand to guide everything. She never coughed so violently that she needed to catch her breath. Her presence was unnerving, because it made Bruce unconsciously compare her with Alfred: she can do this, Alfred can't. She can do that, Alfred won't. Alfred even asks her to do it for him. Alfred shows her how to set the table just how Bruce likes it. Alfred shows her how to lock the doors at night. Alfred takes her everywhere, showing her the ins and outs of Wayne Manor. Soon, will he even need Alfred any more, if she can do it all instead?

Of course, Alfred insisted that he was fine--just like Bruce often insisted that he was fine. They were alike, the two of them, having spent so much of their lives together. Alfred could practically claim to have raised him. But now Bruce was no longer a little boy--he was twenty-four years old, and from what he remembered of his younger years, Alfred had already been an elderly man even then. How old was his good friend now? Bruce knew his butler's birthday, of course, and threw a small and homely party (just the way Alfred liked it) every year, but he did not know how old the man was. He must be in his sixties, Bruce mused, maybe even seventies. It was alarming to think about, so he did not ponder it often. When he did, he found himself wondering not what he would do once Alfred was gone, but rather how Alfred's last days would be. He wanted his mentor to be happy. And though Alfred would smile, laugh, and went about almost as well as normal, at times Bruce had the distinct feeling that this was all a show. Then again, what would he know? True, he lived a double life himself, but that did not make him a master of identifying others' subterfuge.

Shaking himself from these thoughts, Bruce used more caution this time, making use of his left hand to grip the doorknob. After waiting a few moments in the door-frame, Bruce decided that the lack of footsteps meant both his servants were happily asleep. The way he should be.

His room was dark, heavily shielded by curtains, so that even the Batman would have found it homely. Not long after taking up his double life Bruce had learned that the sun was his enemy. He battled with it as much as he did the villains of Gotham's alleyways. Thick curtains staved off the light's onslaught every morning--until Alfred or Temperance threw them open, declared it to be noon, and left him to suffer with the light searing his eyes. If he ever left his bed, once he sank down on it, he'd learned that he could never return to sleep. So, more often than not, the daylight won.

But not this morning, Bruce decided. This morning he was going to get up and face the firing squad before his allotted time. He would be down for breakfast, not lunch. Maybe Alfred would see him making an effort, and it would hearten the man enough to make him well. A stupid, childish hope, Bruce knew, but he was far too tired to chastise himself for regressing mentally. He'd wake up tomorrow and go back to pretending everything was okay, and Alfred would pretend with him, and they would both feel all the more mature for it.

First, however, he simply had to take a look at his arm. It was still throbbing horribly. He hissed in pain as he lifted it, his elbow giving such a terrible twinge that he would gladly have parted with it forever, if he could only never feel that sensation ever again. Shutting the door, he flicked on his bedside lamp.

There it was. Purple, blotted, and abused. Almost as bad as it had been three weeks ago, when he had first dislocated it. That injury had been the result of taking a bad fall. This time it was due more to negligence. And that damned woman.

"I hope she falls into an electrical wire, or something," Bruce muttered darkly, as he pressed an ice pack from his little bedroom refrigerator to his elbow. For a long moment afterwards he wondered if he'd truly meant what he'd said. Alfred wouldn't like him thinking like that--not at all. 'It's the choices you make that determine who you are,' he'd say. Don't be like one of them.

Well, others had already decided that he was like one of them, hadn't they? The papers were all busy comparing him to the Joker. A murderer under a mask, they wrote daily. A terror on the city. Bruce still had enough humor to find it ironic how alike to the actual Joker the newspapers sounded--these papers, who had once declared the Joker to be public menace #1, now were sounding a bit too close to his insane ramblings for Bruce's comfort. He hardly read them any more, unless it was to track how many of the criminals he'd caught had been released by Alejandra Huerta the previous evening.

His arm throbbed. Popping back a couple aspirin, he settled under the bed covers, the water-filled mattress conforming to his limp form. The pain would recede soon, he knew. It would be better in the morning. If only he'd thought that woman had indeed possessed such a throwing arm.

"I don't suppose I want her to die... just go to the hospital for a couple nights and give me some rest," he sleepily mumbled, so quietly that his own words did not stir him from the slumber that was fast overtaking him.