Chapter 1

Chapter 1

The salty breeze washed over him as he stood on the bluffs. It had taken some convincing, but he had finally acquiesced to Barbara's and Dick's request that he go away for a few weeks. Looking back on the conversation now, Bruce had to agree that it was for the best. He looked ten years younger than he had a little over a week ago and he knew that would be hard to explain to people.

Of course, he needn't have worried about a suitable excuse for the change in his appearance. Barbara had purposefully leaked information to Gotham's most popular published rags that Bruce Wayne had left the country for personal reasons. Plastic surgery had been heavily hinted at and the papers had run with it. Now, he just had to wait an appropriate amount of time to make the lie believable.

Bruce hadn't spoken to Tim since the night he had attacked him. Sighing, he thought he wouldn't know what to say to the young man anyway. Apologizing didn't seem to be enough and it sounded hollow when he practiced in his own head.

Dick had seemed more relieved than anything, Bruce thought, when he had agreed to leave for a vacation of sorts. Agreeing that he needed time to heal his mind, Bruce had decided on a quiet place where he could meditate and retrain his concentration and emotions.

Barbara and Cass were trying to track down Talia. She would have to be dealt with, Bruce knew. More memories had invaded his consciousness in the last few days and Bruce had been slowly categorizing and filing them. Licking his suddenly dry lips, he wondered how much of what he remembered had actually happened. Until he could decipher between reality and subconscious suggestion, he decided he would not allow himself back in the suit.

Turning back to the house with a sigh, he watched the white wall length curtains blow through the open French doors. He had purchased the house, through a different name by way of Oracle, fully furnished and in move-in ready condition. He wouldn't have had the energy, he thought, to find a place that needed to be furnished.

The house was large enough to accommodate his need for space and was decorated tastefully enough. Most everything in the house was white and beige, a blank canvas that suited him. He figured the uncluttered and simple color motif would help to un-clutter his mind, or at the very least wouldn't distract him.

Entering the glass double doors that lead directly into the master bedroom, he walked slowly through the large room and into the living room. Connie was sitting on the couch.

The tabloids had reported that Bruce Wayne's personal physician and possible lover had accompanied him on his trip. That had sent most of the elite social circle of Gothamites into a whirl. He could only imagine the questions he would face when he returned to his little loved social circle in Gotham.

She hadn't pressed him about why he was taking a trip, reportedly to have plastic surgery, when he already looked as though he had had work done. The questions were blatant behind her eyes but she had decided to be patient and told Bruce as much.

It had been more difficult to convince Connie to go than it had been Bruce. Alfred and Leslie had intervened and after a lengthy conversation she had finally relented. Alfred was of the mind Bruce needed a keeper and had used that argument and quite a bit of guilt to convince Connie to travel with Bruce.

The guilt of knowing he was going through some kind of crisis and shouldn't travel alone had finally broken her and she started to pack the next day. Though she had taken this so called vacation, though, she had attempted to keep her distance from Bruce, both physically and emotionally.

She had slept in a separate bedroom and spent her days swimming in the Ionian Sea. They had taken their meals together but spoken little. Traveling into the nearest town had proven to be eye opening for Connie. Not only did Bruce speak fluent and perfectly accented Italian, she had discovered, but he had rather more knowledge of the area they were staying in than she had imagined.

Sitting next to her on the couch, Bruce glanced her way. She was wearing flowing white pants and a tank top and seemed to blend into the background as she curled her feet under her. Almost like a chameleon, he thought, she strove to become a part of her surroundings. Perhaps she thought he wouldn't notice her, he reflected.

"It's beautiful here," she said, breaking the silence.

"It is," he agreed.

Sighing, she leaned her head on her hands. "Why did you really want me here, Bruce?"

He thought a moment before answering. They hadn't spoken to each much in the three days they had been in Italy and he had been anticipating her question. "I would feel like a real ass if I left you after what you told me."

Shaking her head, she looked disgusted. "Guilt, huh? See, that's why I didn't want you to know."

"No," he said, "it's not guilt. It's…a sense of responsibility, I suppose. What did you think I would do with that information, just store it away and leave you for two weeks?"

Shrugging, she sighed. "I don't know, Bruce. Don't feel responsible for me. I don't want you to keep me around because you feel bad or burdened or guilty. I never meant to make you feel any of those things."

Dragging a hand through his hair, he scowled. The bits of gray that had been streaking through his hair were all but gone. Accepting the physical changes he had undergone had been more difficult than he had thought they would be. It seemed to him as though a different man were staring back at him from the mirror.

"Connie, I didn't want to leave Gotham and leave you feeling as though you had scared me away. You didn't."

"It doesn't matter, Bruce. The most we can be now is friends. You can leave Gotham any time you want and you don't have to consult me." She finally made eye contact with him when she was done speaking.

"Maybe I just wanted the company," he said quietly.

Scoffing, she looked at him incredulously. "I somehow doubt that very much. You could have taken any of your brood, Bruce. Alfred would have gone with you in a heartbeat. You wanted me to go and you still haven't told me why."

Looking deeply into her eyes, he was afraid to tell her the real reason. Instead of frightening him with her confession of her illness, she had endeared herself to him. He was now infatuated with her vulnerability and passion and honestly. The more he spoke to her, the more he wanted to speak to her. The more he looked at her, the more he wanted to look at her. Of course, he couldn't tell her any of that. She was adamant they be just friends and he would respect those wishes.

She looked into his deep blue eyes that suddenly seemed glacial to her and swallowed hard. It had taken most of the very long journey to Maratea for Connie to admit to herself that she had wanted to go with Bruce. They hadn't spoken much during the twelve hour flight to Naples and the subsequent three hour drive to Maratea, but when they had he had been an excellent conversationalist and she had been put quite at ease.

She could never admit to him that she wanted to be much more than friends; it wouldn't be fair, she thought. He deserved better than to fall in love with a dead woman walking, she told herself. It would be better to keep him at arm's length. Of course, she thought, if she had really wanted to do that she wouldn't have traveled with him to what she considered the most beautiful place she had ever seen.

"Change of scenery," he finally said. "I needed to look out of a window and see something other than Gotham. Maybe I wanted to look across the room and see someone other than a member of my brood, as you call them. This is a good change."

"I'm glad I could help," she said softly but stiffly.

Sighing, he stood and held his hand out to her. "Let's go. I'm hungry and you've been swimming all day, you must be starving."

Frowning, she followed him outside and got into the car he had rented in Naples. Neither deemed it necessary to change, a fact Bruce thought Alfred would balk at. Dressed in simple khakis and a blue tunic, Bruce had to smile slightly. His long time friend and butler would certainly not approve of his dinner attire.

Sitting in the restaurant, Connie ran her hands along the rough walls and looked up at the beamed ceiling. It was cozy and charming, she thought, and the dim lighting and excellent wine relaxed her mood.

Drinking only water, Bruce reclined just a little in his chair and marveled at the fact that most men would give an organ to be in his position. He was in the most gorgeous and least touristy area of Italy with an exceptional woman. They were staying in the previous home of a one of the Italian elite. It was the stuff movies were made of, he thought.

Sighing, he looked into her dark chocolate eyes and spared her a small smile. She returned the gesture and lifted her wine glass to him before sipping it. This, he thought, was definitely a place to recover his wits and mental skills.

At the end of the two week period of forced exile, he thought, he would either be entirely ready to get back to the streets of his beloved city, or he would never want to leave this magical place and this wonderful woman. He wasn't sure which outcome he was hoping for.